Survivor: Jennifer Hobbs
PSO- Fire Captain Mark Ratledge
Statement by Jennifer Hobbs
After Mark passed I lived in a fog; I must have blocked out almost all of the memories. People mention events and I don’t even remember them. It has been a learning journey, and it hasn’t been easy. I went from living in a stable and secure partnership, to raising 3 children alone; of which one was only a 13 month old.
Mark was on a 24 hour shift during an intense hail storm; the hail hit around 4 a.m. Multiple accidents occurred on I-5 that morning and he was on the response team. They were responding to a vehicle that had gone off of the road. His fire truck was parked on the shoulder along with CHP responders. As they came back up to the freeway, a pickup truck went out of control and struck Mark: he passed instantly at about 6:10 a.m.
He was not only the department’s captain, he was their rock. He started as a volunteer, rose in the ranks to captain, was their local safety officer, participated in youth outreach programs, and would do anything for his department. After all he had done for his community, I was surprised at the difficulties that were created by that department for me after his passing. There had been some feelings of jealousy before his death, and they transferred over to me. I needed support and communication and was met with confrontation. I had trouble even retrieving his personal belongings from his locker. It was not pretty.
On top of suffering the loss of Mark, applying for benefits was an extremely difficult and complicated process. It was between a year and a year and a half before I had support in seeking out benefits, and about 3 years before I started to receive them. Believe it or not, I know other families that are still fighting up to 6 years later. The reason I was able to realize these benefits is due to the fact that Mike Ramirez came to my aid.
Initially I went to the department for help, but they had no idea how to go about retrieving the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB). I was also assigned a Cal Fire liaison who was very nice, but unable to really assist in the benefits application process.
Mike did it all and more. He found the appropriate forms, filled them all out, submitted them, guided myself and my family through a beautiful memorial in Mark’s honor, and much more. He truly knows the process, inside and out, provided me with essential emotional support, and is a judgement free man. In this process I have found that, whereas not everyone knows how to help and offer advice, they all know how to provide judgement. I never felt like he had judged me; he provided constant encouragement.
When attempting to retrieve the benefits my situation became very tricky: I was not married to Mark at the time of his passing, and of my three children, only the youngest was biologically his. Mark raised all three of our children, and they all have suffered greatly from his passing. Regardless, the benefits were to go exclusively to my youngest, and were to be placed in a blocked account, barring me from accessing the necessary funds to raise my children. Mike understood that all three of my children deserved to be taken care of, and he fought long and hard for my family. He diligently collected testimonials from members of my community; doctors, teachers, family members, and anyone who had recognized that my three children were Mark’s children as well.
Because of Mike’s diligence and extensive knowledge of this “system,” the benefits were split between all three of my children. He made it possible for them to access the things they will need – a college education and braces to mention just a few!
In this difficult process I found myself losing faith in the highly praised firemen’s “brotherhood.” Mike Ramirez single-handedly reinstated my faith in it. He is the true meaning of brotherhood; he treated the widow of one of his brothers as if she were his own. A truly amazing friendship was formed out of a truly tragic event.
When you go through such a traumatic public death it’s easy to forget many necessary details and deadlines. Fortunately, I was able to focus on my children and Mike took care of the rest. Receiving the benefits, a beautiful memorial, acceptance, moving forward while honoring memory: none of this would have happened without him.