What’s it take to be a firefighter?
You go around a firehouse asking that sort of philosophical question, and you’re bound to get a lot of different simple answers — bravery, dedication, and toughness will be at the top of a varied and long list of single words and short phrases.
Maybe it’s a question that can only be answered with a story that’s unique to the individual.
For Dexter’s Kevin Vance Ramsey, born Aug. 28, 1966, it started when he was just 15 years old. Barely through the door in Detroit’s Finney High School, Kevin’s brother John died, followed a year later by their father, Hiram. Having only lived long enough to have celebrated his 51st birthday exactly two weeks ago on August 28, had he not perished from a massive heart attack the previous July 29 after fighting a pair of commercial building fires, Kevin probably hadn’t thought much about his motivations.
At least not to the extent that it was explicitly stated in a conversation, but Kevin’s wife Amy knows her husband and his background enough to know that those early losses are likely what set him on the path to wanting to spare others the same devastating losses that he had suffered, and continued to suffer throughout his life every time a space where a brother and father should be standing was filled with their presence only in his mind and heart, starting with his high school graduation in 1970 and every milestone celebration from that point on.
“He could fix and create anything and everything,” Amy said this past weekend, acknowledging that this year’s 9/11 anniversary without her husband was going to be difficult, because while it’s not a happy event like a birthday or graduation, today is a day to feel, acknowledge, and appreciate the presence of first responders to life’s biggest emergencies.
And on this day firefighters lead the way in our hearts and minds.
Kevin had a big heart that demanded he join the first responder brotherhood immediately. While working at Kroger for the initial backbone of his earning power, Kevin joined the ranks of Royal Oak Township’s and Highland Park’s fire departments as a firefighter, followed by operating in Detroit as an emergency medical technician.
On July 19, 1999 Kevin joined the Detroit Fire Department as a firefighter. He had the job he had always wanted and he was doing it in the city that he so loved. He wasted no time in getting involved with the jaws-of-life rescue squad. What better way to save lives than to literally rip tons of steel open to free them from injury or death?
“He loved it, he loved doing that, he loved his job,” Amy said. The couple met in July 2014 in a Detroit Free Press news article page comment section, of all places. The story pertained to response times involving a pair of children who died in an auto accident. She had been communicating with the staff writer who authored another article about the renovation of the Packard Automobile Plant, and as such was reading his other recent works.
“Kevin was the first response to the (auto accident) article, and I responded, and we began communicating,” Amy recalled. The topic of firefighting was a big part of their correspondence, so Kevin invited the Dexter woman he had just met online to tour the Detroit firehouse he was stationed at, and then they went to dinner.
“We just hit it off instantly — eight months later we decided to elope and get married,” she said. They were married in March 2015 on Belle Isle.
The only “D” Kevin knew was Detroit, but having lived in Dexter since 1994, Amy was determined that Washtenaw County’s D-town was packed with just as much appeal and inhabited by folks he would appreciate.
“We called them our D1 and D2,” Amy said.
Kevin’s wife really came to understand and appreciate her new husband, who on top of everything else in his life that he poured his energy and passion into, was a dedicated son who made sure that his mother, Betty, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was always well cared for and attended to.
If you’re amazed at Kevin, so was Amy: “You meet this guy who’s a full time Detroit firefighter, and in his spare time he’s caring for his mother like this…” She let the statement trail off, although there’s an implied “amazing” in there somewhere.
Kevin found great peace in Dexter, having an appreciation for making frequent trips up north, he had a fondness for nature and great open spaces. He loved bon fires, fixing bikes and old radios, and chopping wood. Kevin greatly approved of the Dexter Area Fire Department and rested easy knowing they were on call when his family was asleep and vulnerable. The small D became his refuge where he recharged his mind and soul, before speeding off to the big D to see who he could help or even save that day.
Today Kevin would have remembered shopping for his firehouse on September 11, 2001. It was a routine day. He was on deck for kitchen duty and was focused on feeding his squad mates when the news of the attacks reached him. He returned to the rest of his Squad 3 at the firehouse and stood by ready to respond if a similar attack were attempted in Detroit.
While he himself didn’t go to New York, several of his fellow firefighters made the trip that so many first responders from across the country made in the days and weeks after the attacks to pitch in whatever effort they could to fix the worst catastrophe to hit America in modern times.
Over the course of his career in Detroit, Kevin toughened up more and more each year and became a typical member of what his wife referred to as the “high tolerance for adrenaline and stress” Detroit firefighter, having to deal with some of the most intense emergency response calls in Michigan.
Amy is still waiting for medical examiners to tell her the full story of what happened to Kevin’s heart, but one thing she knows is that while it was beating, it was filled with love and self-sacrifice for her husband’s fellow man, as evidenced by his seemingly incessant drive to either make things right or make sure that things stay right in the first place.
She thanked the multitudes of firefighters who attended the funeral, some of which came from as far as New York City to pay their respects, as well as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who personally expressed a desire to start a heart healthcare program for Detroit’s firefighters, as a result of Kevin’s fate.
Kevin probably would have liked that — an ongoing effort to prevent his brothers from meeting an undeserved fate, so that they might spend more time continuing the mission they shared in his stead; keeping injury and death away from innocent people with everything from barehands to steel-wrenching mechanical jaws — whatever it takes.
In addition to his wife, Kevin is survived by two stepchildren; Albert and Amanda. His sister Kim Guy, nephew Mike Guy, and niece Jennifer Guy and her children.