Donald DiPetrillo, who served the Seminole Tribe of Florida as its fire chief since 2008 and had worked for fire departments in Broward County for nearly 50 years, died April 30, 2020, at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. He was 70.
William Latchford, executive director of public safety for the Seminole Tribe, fondly remembered Chief DiPetrillo for his dedication and demeanor.
“Don played a major role in bringing a new level of professionalism to the Fire Department operations of Seminole Fire Rescue,” Latchford said in a statement from the Tribe. “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.”
The Tribe said Chief DiPetrillo died from COVID-19 and that he is believed to have contracted the coronavirus while on duty attending the “EMS Today” emergency medical services conference in Tampa. The conference was held in early March at the Tampa Convention Center. He had been hospitalized since mid-March.
Chief DiPetrillo’s brother David had been posting updates on Facebook for the past few weeks about the chief’s condition.
On April 30 he posted: “My brother Donald DiPetrillo has fought a long, hard, courageous fight for his earthly life. His fight is over. Donald is at peace with his savior Jesus Christ, who welcomes him into God’s loving arms.”
Chief DiPetrillo’s tenure as the Tribe’s fire chief lasted 11 years. A few months after being named chief, he participated in the grand opening ceremony for the Big Cypress Reservation’s Jimmie Cypress Public Safety Complex on Oct. 17, 2008. The facility is home to the reservation’s fire, police and other emergency personnel.
Chief DiPetrillo oversaw several firefighter/EMS graduation ceremonies in Tribal headquarters auditorium. In his addresses, he often stressed to new graduates the importance of family – both within the Tribe and at home.
“Once you join the Tribe, you are part of one big family,” DiPetrillo told graduates in May 2016. “The Tribal members count on us as a family and as co-workers to support them as much as we count on them to help us.”
Chief DiPetrillo’s firefighting career stretched back to the early 1970s. He worked for the City of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Department from 1973-2001 and served as assistant fire chief. After retiring from Fort Lauderdale, he served as Davie’s fire chief and emergency management director from 2001-07.
An outpouring of sympathy and respect for the Davie resident came from those he served and worked with throughout his career.
“The men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office mourn the loss of Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Chief Donald DiPetrillo, who sadly lost his battle with COVID-19. A true public safety icon in the South Florida fire community for nearly half century, Chief DiPetrillo served with pride, dignity and dedication,” Broward County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page.
“He will be missed by all. Thank you for your years of service. RIP Chief,” the Davie Fire Rescue Department posted on its Facebook page.
“Gone from our sight, but never from our hearts. Rest in Peace Chief DiPetrillo,” the Town of Davie posted on Facebook.
“The @FCABC is saddened to hear of the passing of #SeminoleTribeFireDepartment Fire Chief Donald DiPetrillo. Chief DiPetrillo was a staple in the South Florida fire service. We are a safer Broward because of his leadership. Rest in Peace, Chief!,” the Fire Chiefs Association of Broward County posted on Twitter.
Miami TV stations showed a tribute from emergency personnel who gathered at the hospital and a procession with emergency vehicles, led by Seminole Fire Rescue, that accompanied the casket to a funeral home in Plantation.
Chief DiPetrillo graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood in 1967. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Barry University in Miami Shores. He also held an associate’s degree in fire science from Broward College.
Chief DiPetrillo joined the U.S. Navy in 1971 as a Yeoman 2nd Class and served on board the U.S.S. Wasp. He was honorably discharged into the United States Reserves in 1972.
He is survived by his mother, Joan, and son, Tyson, of Davie, two brothers, David and John, and Lindy Maracic, his girlfriend.