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‘He led by example': Fiancée of fallen Baltimore FF talks about his passion

“I’ve never seen somebody so excited to go to work,” Lauren Ridlon said about Lt. Dillon J. Rinaldo’s love of being a firefighter

By Dan Belson
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — One of the things Lauren Ridlon misses most about life with her fiance, Baltimore Fire Department Lt. Dillon J. Rinaldo, is waking up in the morning.

Specifically, waking up to the sound of the 26-year-old fire officer running around the house, followed by the skittering sound of a puppy’s paws on the floor. Rinaldo had been on a “journey” to become a full-time morning person, his fiancee said.

The odyssey really took off when the couple adopted their puppy. Every weekend, after Rinaldo took care of the early morning dog duties, Ridlon would join him on the couch for a cup of coffee and a viewing of the Smithsonian Channel’s “Aerial America.” He enjoyed documentaries. They both loved to travel.

Rinaldo’s funeral is Friday. He will be buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

He was injured in the fast-spreading rowhouse fire in Northwest Baltimore that claimed the life of Firefighter/EMT Rodney Pitts III later that night. Fire officials say Rinaldo, who had served the department for six years, was injured by burns while putting out the fire and rendering aid to Pitts. Rinaldo remained in the hospital for several days before his death.

Ridlon, who had become engaged to Rinaldo in February and was set to marry him next May, is still “so proud of him.”

“I’m inspired by him to continue to carry his hat and do everything I can to honor him,” she said this week.

Before coming to Baltimore, Rinaldo was a highly respected student-athlete from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, who had volunteered at the borough’s fire department alongside his father. His coaches noted that from a young age, Rinaldo had made it clear he wanted to become a career firefighter, a job he eventually took in Baltimore.

“He loved [being a firefighter]. I’ve never seen somebody so excited to go to work,” Ridlon said, noting her fiance was “born talking about the fire service” but still tried to learn as much as he could at the training sessions. He became a lieutenant last year.

Shortly after Rinaldo’s first day as a Baltimore firefighter, he went on a first date with Ridlon, who said she was immediately drawn in by how interesting and witty the new Baltimorean was. In the past few weeks, Ridlon has started using the phrase “heart of a lion” as a mantra to remember her late fiance. A fire department chaplain recently told her that “Dillon,” an Irish name, means “lion” or “loyal.”

“He led by example,” she said, also remembering Rinaldo as someone who was “remarkably strong” in body and soul, being both “protective and pragmatic.”

The couple had talked about the dangers of his job and spoken about arrangements in the case of a sudden death — a difficult conversation for a couple in their early 20s to have.

“We discussed the reality of it,” she said.

She misses the way Rinaldo cared for her and others around him, whether it be a hug on a bad day or helping to care for his partner’s grandmother when she was ill. Ridlon misses cooking with Rinaldo and dancing together in the kitchen. That grief will stay, but she will make sure his legacy lives on.

Rinaldo loved history and documentaries, especially those about the American Revolution. He was always the last one to leave the beach. The couple often traveled together, enjoying new places and new foods. They liked going to wine tastings, and Rinaldo recently joined a whiskey explorers club — he had sophisticated tastes, though he was a self-proclaimed picky eater who loved red Gatorade and chicken tenders.

Most of all, he was brave and selfless, “remarkably strong” and “loved life deeply and purely.”

“We had a beautiful life together,” Ridlon said. “I’m so proud of him, regardless of anything.”

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