San Diego Fire-Rescue Department

‘It Was a Shock': San Diego Firefighter Dies From COVID-19 Days Before Retirement

It is unclear where Nickolas Ramirez could have contracted the virus, but longtime friend and colleague says it is a reminder of the dangers first responders face every day

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For over two decades Nickolas Ramirez dedicated his life to serving others.

“I never saw him get mad, I never saw him with an attitude,” said Mitch Mendler, friend, and colleague. “He was a great guy, excellent firefighter, the kind of guy that you could trust, count on to get the job done.”

Mendler had been friends with him since the 80’s when they met working in an ambulance together. They stayed good friends through the years as they both ended up working as firefighters for the city of San Diego. Mendler retired last year, only to return as a paramedic a few months later. Ramirez was headed the same way but COVID-19 got in the way.

“His last shift was supposed to be just a couple of days after he checked into the hospital and never came home,” said Mendler.

Mendler says Ramirez was admitted into the hospital at the end of January after being unable to breathe.

“It was a shock,” said Mendler. “It's just hard to believe.”

He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and his condition quickly worsened.

“It just really hurts,” said Mendler. “His wife calls my son’s mother-in-law and said, ‘he ain’t coming home’ this was five days before he died.”

Ramirez passed away on Feb.16. Mendler says he was fully vaccinated. 

“Nick was a really strong guy,” said Mendler. “He was really fit physically, mentally. I was sure he was going to survive.”

It is unclear where Ramirez could have contracted the virus, but Mendler says it is a reminder of the dangers first responders face every day.

“I can say that not everyone understands what we do and how we do our jobs, but I will tell you firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and EMT's, we sacrifice and we put ourselves in situations that most people would never accept under any circumstance,” said Mendler. “And we do it daily.”

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