Md. firefighter remembered as ‘real life superhero,’ hazards of firefighting underscored

For the second time in a week, a Baltimore City firefighter was laid to rest as their heroism was remembered and the hazards of the job were highlighted.

On Friday morning, 26-year-old Baltimore City fire Capt. Dillon Rinaldo was remembered as a gentle giant, a dependable colleague and a loving, considerate and humble fiancee.

The week before, funeral services were held for 31-year-old firefighter Rodney Pitts III, who along with Rinaldo, died after fighting a row house fire in Baltimore last month.

At Rinaldo’s funeral, Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said of Rinaldo, “He lived. He served. He gave. And his legacy lives on, as does the legacy of his brother in service, Rodney Pitts III.”

Rinaldo’s younger sister said of her firefighter brother, “I will always remember you as my brave, strong, and courageous older brother that was a fighter until the very end.”

Lauren Ridlon, Rinaldo’s fiancee, told those gathered at the funeral service that during his hospitalization after the fire, Rinaldo got a “get well” card from a student in his home state of New Jersey that said in part, “You’re like Spider-Man and Superman, but you’re real.”

She paused a moment and said, “You’re right, Dillon’s a real life superhero.”

Ridlon said many people asked her what they could do for her after the loss of her fiancee. She said, “Live like Dillon. Enjoy the mornings. Order the dessert. Fall in love.” And she added, “Laugh more than you cry.”

In the week between the funerals for the two firefighters, the Baltimore City Fire Department issued a memo calling for some changes to the way building fires are handled.

According to The Baltimore Sun and CBS Baltimore, who obtained the memo, the new guidance calls for additional risk analysis before firefighters attempt to enter buildings, and when there are fires at vacant buildings, personnel should not enter unless there’s a sighting of a person trapped inside.

WTOP talked to Victor Stagnaro, CEO of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, about the dangers of fighting fires. “There’s a lot of challenges when it comes to fighting a fire, especially in this day and age.” He explained that by saying modern furniture has a greater composition of plastic and foam. As a result, he said, “fires burn hotter and burn faster than they ever have in our history.”

Stagnaro said the cause of the fire that took the lives of Pitts and Rinaldo is still under investigation, but that the guidance given to Baltimore City’s firefighters comports with changes over the years. He said there’s been an “enormous amount” of research in fire science that supports changing approaches to how fires are tackled.

“It’s not that unusual to see a tactic being deployed for hitting it from the outside first before committing crews to the interior of a building,” he said.

In Montgomery County, a 2017 policy and procedure document from then-fire Chief Scott Goldstein stated, “Fireground operations are inherently complex and inherently risky undertakings.”

Making sure that firefighters do a 360-degree exterior check of a building, including from the rooftop when possible, was another piece of guidance in the memo, and Stagnaro said that’s “become a general tactic,” but he added, “However, you do need to understand the challenges of doing that in a city department” and in a city “with row houses where you may have to go down to the end of a block to get to the rear of a building.”

Stagnaro said that in this case, it appears that Baltimore is evaluating its policies “to protect the firefighters, which is very admirable.”

Last year, three Baltimore firefighters died after responding to a vacant building fire. One of those firefighters, 30-year-old Kenneth Lacayo, was a Wheaton High School graduate, and served as a member of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Fire departments routinely do outreach to educate communities about fire safety. Stagnaro said homeowners and renters alike “can be a hero in their own home” by making sure they have working smoke detectors and are alert to fire hazards in their home.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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