A fired Cal Fire official who lost his job amid scandal says Director Ken Pimlott ordered him to withhold death-benefits information from grieving families of fallen fire pilots, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in a Sacramento court.
The complaint contends that Pimlott and his No. 2, Janet Barentson, knew that state law requires Cal Fire pay death benefits when a contracted fire pilot is killed in the line of duty. At some point, Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez, an administrator at the department’s Ione Academy who also worked with deceased firefighters’ families, discovered the law and brought it up with both superiors, the lawsuit says.
“Defendants Pimlott and Barentson ordered Assistant Chief Ramirez not to disclose the existence of (the law) to any (of the families),” the court filing states, and threatened that “his career would be placed in jeopardy” if he disobeyed. Meanwhile, they ordered Ramirez to continue pressing federal officials to pay benefits, even though it was clear such efforts were “futile,” the lawsuit states.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton responded with a two-sentence email to The Sacramento Bee late Friday: “No. This allegation is not true.”
The case resumes a battle between Ramirez and Pimlott that broke into public view earlier this year after The Bee reported Ione Academy cadets and managers drank on state time, shared interview questions and answers, stored and displayed inappropriate photos on state phones and, in one instance, used state property to consort with prostitutes. In all, 15 Cal Fire employees were fired or demoted.