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Seminole Tribe of Florida fire chief dies from the coronavirus. It’s believed he caught it in Tampa.

Donald DiPetrillo, 70, has been fighting COVID-19 at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood since March 12, the tribe said.
Donald DiPetrillo, 70, fire chief for the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been fighting COVID-19 at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood since March 12. He died Thursday.
Donald DiPetrillo, 70, fire chief for the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been fighting COVID-19 at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood since March 12. He died Thursday. [ Seminole Tribe of Florida via Miami Herald ]
Published May 5, 2020

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is mourning the loss of its fire chief after he died Thursday night from the novel coronavirus.

Donald DiPetrillo, 70, has been fighting COVID-19 at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood since March 12, the tribe said Friday.

It is believed he contracted the virus at the “EMS Today” emergency medical services conference in Tampa in early March. Four Miami-Dade County firefighters, seven Reedy Creek firefighters and some Miami firefighters were quarantined after attending the same convention.

Also in the Seminole Tribe, Calvin “Cal” Harrison, a 78-year-old Seminole Police Department officer, died of COVID-19 on April 17.

‘A NEW LEVEL OF PROFESSIONALISM’

“Don played a major role in bringing a new level of professionalism to the Fire Department operations of Seminole Fire Rescue,” William Latchford, executive director of public safety for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said in a news release.

“Chief DiPetrillo understood that success in life was about just being nice. If you care for people, the rest takes care of itself. His care, commitment, and leadership for over 50 years of service, helped shape the future of the fire service, not only within the Seminole Tribe, but also in the State of Florida.”

DIPETRILLO’S CAREER

DiPetrillo, who lived in Davie, graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood in 1967. He received his associate’s degree in fire science from Broward College and then graduated from Barry University with a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

He joined the Navy in 1971 as a Yeoman 2nd Class and served on board the U.S.S. Wasp. After being honorably discharged, he became part of the United States Reserves in 1972.

From 1973 until 2001, he was with the Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Department and had worked as a lifeguard in the early 1970s. DiPetrillo then served as Davie’s fire chief and emergency management director from 2001 through 2007.

“I’m planning on staying around a while,” DiPetrillo told the Miami Herald when he joined the town in 2001. “You’re not going to make massive changes in a short time. I have to learn the landscape.”

DiPetrillo had taken the helm of a Davie department that had its share of troubles. A previous chief had been demoted after the fire union entered a vote of no-confidence. A deputy was fired after investigators determined he had made racist and sexist comments to co-workers.

DiPetrillo took office with hopes of improving the image.

“This community is blossoming,” he said then, “and I want fire-rescue to be an integral part of that process.”

Said Town of Davie Fire Chief Julie Downey, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Broward County: “We are all saddened by the loss of Chief Donald DiPetrillo. He dedicated almost 50 years to the South Florida fire rescue services and has been a member of our organization for over 20 years.”

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Downey was hired by the department in 2004 during DiPetrillo’s tenure as fire chief in Davie and rose through the ranks.

“Don was a colleague, co-worker and friend,” she said in a statement. “His contributions to our fire and EMS services are many. I will remember him as a visionary, consummate professional and strong leader. He will be missed.”

In 2008, DiPetrillo became the fire chief for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

‘A TRUE PUBLIC SAFETY ICON’

On a Facebook post, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Gregory Tony called DiPetrillo “a true public safety icon in the South Florida fire community for nearly half a century. Chief DiPetrillo served with pride, dignity and dedication.”

Added Nancy Diane Hickman: “He was a wonderful man and a good friend. He was all about being nice and treating others the way you want to be treated.”

FAMILY

At a commencement ceremony in 2016, DiPetrillo stood before seven new graduates into the Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue team and said, “It’s Seminole Fire Rescue, a family; it’s not like any other place,” The Seminole Tribune reported.

The fire rescue department has 145 professionals and support staff, according to the tribe’s LinkedIn page. Positions include firefighters, emergency medical services personnel and forestry firefighters.

DiPetrillo’s survivors include his mother, Joan, and son, Tyson, of Davie; two brothers, David and John; and Lindy Maracic, his girlfriend.

Details on a funeral have not been announced.

--Carli Teproff and Howard Cohen

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