Dillon Rinaldo was larger than life.

His fiancée, Lauren Ridlon, recalled that he had a booming voice and possessed a presence that brightened the room. Integrity was the backbone of his leadership as an officer in the Baltimore City Fire Department. He was fair and firm, she said, and led by example.

Outside of serving as a firefighter, Rinaldo loved ice cream, enjoyed golf and spent his weekends off watching “Aerial America.” He was funny, charming and silly, she said, and he would dance in the kitchen while cooking and singing at the top of his lungs. He “defined unconditional love.”

Rinaldo, 26, was one of two firefighters, along with Rodney Pitts III, who died from injuries suffered in a two-alarm fire on Oct. 19 that engulfed multiple rowhomes in the 5200 block of Linden Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. He was posthumously promoted from lieutenant to captain for his “dedication, selflessness, and unwavering courage.”

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“What a blessing,” Ridlon said. “What a blessing to have spent time in life with someone who loved life so much.”

“Dillon did not dwell. Dillon remembered,” she added. “He would ask us to do the same.”

Loved ones mourn during firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s memorial services at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s casket is carried into the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s helmet and cover are carried out of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

For the second time in a week, thousands of firefighters and loved ones set out on a somber 26-mile procession from the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home in Dundalk to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. They mourned a man who had the “heart of a lion” and knew even in childhood that he wanted to be a firefighter.

“May he rest in peace knowing that he has made his mark on this world through his service and his love for others,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said. “There is no greater meaning in this life or the next.”

Rinaldo grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where he was known as the “firehouse kid.” He kept firefighting gear near his bed and listened to a radio so he could go out to calls with his father. They’d later volunteer together for several years at Fair Lawn Fire Co. No. 4.

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Firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s father, Ralph Rinaldo, exits the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3, 2023 after the memorial service. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s casket sits on top of Engine 13 on Nov. 3, 2023 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Mourners comfort each other during firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo’s memorial services at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

In 2017, Rinaldo was hired as a full-time firefighter with the Baltimore City Fire Department, realizing his dream.

Three others, Lt. Keith Brooks and firefighters Tavon Marshall and Seth Robbins, were hurt in the Oct. 19 blaze and treated at the hospital and released.

State and local authorities have concluded their review of the scene itself but are still actively investigating the cause and origin of the fire, said Amanda Hils, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Baltimore division.

The fatal fire comes more than a year after three other city firefighters were killed battling a fire at a vacant rowhome on South Stricker Street in Southwest Baltimore.

Rinaldo’s casket arrived on Engine 13 to the sound of bagpipes and cathedral bells. His loved ones clasped hands and walked behind the apparatus, pausing only to pass a tissue.

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Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace described Rinaldo as a “shining personification of dedication, bravery and selflessness within the Baltimore City Fire Department” and read the general order that posthumously promoted him to captain.

His younger sister, Danielle, called him her best friend and hero. “It’s not a goodbye,” she said, “but a see you later.”

Rinaldo was first assigned to Engine Co. No. 35 in Brooklyn, and later transferred to Engine Co. No. 13, at 405 McMechen St. in West Baltimore, which members affectionately refer to as “Club 405,” said Joshua Fannon, president of Baltimore Fire Officers Association IAFF Local 964.

Fannon said he served at that station when he was a lieutenant and stated that it is not an easy assignment.

Firefighters there are skilled veterans who do not exactly welcome newcomers, Fannon said. But it did not take them long to recognize that Rinaldo had all the qualities of an excellent firefighter.

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Rinaldo, he said, was a gentle giant who could use his physicality to fight difficult fires. He was promoted in 2022 and went to Engine Co. No. 46 in Northwest Baltimore.

Responding to his last alarm, Rinaldo performed “heroically and valiantly in the face of unexpected adverse conditions,” Fannon said.

“When death stared Dillon down, he stared right back with steadfast resolve,” Fannon said. “He placed his life on the line so others may live.”

A lone firefighter sits on the beams of the screen showing the inside of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen during Firefighter Captain Dillion Rinaldo's fiancee, Lauren Ridlon, eulogy to him
A lone firefighter sits on the beams of the screen showing the inside of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen while Firefighter Capt. Dillon Rinaldo's fiancée, Lauren Ridlon, delivers a eulogy. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Another speaker at the funeral, Baltimore City Fire Capt. David Guercio, recalled how Rinaldo “did everything by the book,” a quality that reflected his sense of responsibility and respect for the rules.

It was the same mindset that set him up for responding to the 5200 block of Linden Heights Avenue, Guercio said. Rinaldo had conducted home visits there during prior shifts, so he knew from experience which houses that afternoon were occupied.

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After Rinaldo was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, family members brought in a framed copy of the “fireman’s prayer” that had been hanging in his home, Guercio said.

The prayer had been important to Rinaldo, he said, because it was who he was as a person. Guercio then recited the final line:

“And if according to your will I have to lose my life, Bless with your protecting hand my loving family from strife.”

lillian.reed@thebaltimorebanner.com

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

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