Catalyst Magazine

Answering the Call: UMB’s Cardella Deploys to State Team to Support Response to City Firefighters’ Deaths

The Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) has suffered unimaginable losses in each of the past two years. 

Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler, and firefighter/paramedic Kenneth Lacayo were killed in 2022 as they battled a fire inside a vacant rowhome that collapsed on South Stricker Street, the largest loss of life the department had suffered in decades. Tragedy struck again just 21 months later, when Lt. Dillon J. Rinaldo and firefighter/EMT Rodney W. Pitts III died of injuries they suffered fighting a fire on Linden Heights Avenue. 

Their deaths shocked the city and region and brought thousands of mourners to their funerals, drawing people from all over the country.  

Behind the scenes, when there is an emergency such as these line-of-duty deaths in the state, the Maryland Incident Management Team (IMT) helps local jurisdictions by providing command and control infrastructure to manage operational, logistical, informational, planning, fiscal, community, political, and safety issues. And in both cases, IMT called on the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) to lend its support by deploying Carin Cardella, MA, MS, public information officer (PIO) for UMB Police and Public Safety. 

Carin Cardella
UMB’s Carin Cardella is the only current public information officer in the state who has supported multiple Baltimore City Fire Department line-of-duty deaths. Photo by Matthew D’Agostino

Cardella is a member of IMT, which means that she can be deployed when a crisis happens. She has received a vast amount of training and experience in different crisis and emergency situations at UMB and in her previous role as PIO for the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Preparedness and Response, where she managed public health crisis communications for the state and served as the Maryland Emergency Management Agency joint information center manager for national exercises and statewide events. Her experience makes her a valuable asset to the state when critical incidents happen.  

“The IMT’s work is incredibly important to support the fire department as they mourn the deaths of two of their own,” Cardella said after the Linden Heights Avenue deaths. “I was requested as an asset by the IMT as the only current PIO in Maryland who has supported multiple Baltimore City Fire Department line-of-duty deaths.” 

Working with Partners Across Maryland 

In her role with IMT, Cardella supported BCFD’s PIO by helping to develop a communications strategy to disseminate information related to the line-of-duty deaths, working to ensure information was consistent among BCFD, the International Association of Fire Fighters, local unions, and the news media. She responded to media requests, drafted news releases, created graphics with the funeral information, and wrote content for BCFD’s social media. Cardella also deconflicted ceremony information from multiple units, monitored news media and social media, managed rumor control, and created dignitary seating charts.  

“As part of the IMT, I’m working in a room with about 50 people doing a variety of tasks, from coordinating the ceremonies to backfilling every single fire department in Baltimore City through mutual aid agreements with other fire departments,” Cardella said. “I was able to work in real time with partners who come to help from across the state — from Garrett County to Ocean City. Everyone is coordinating different pieces of the response and then I can get that information to the BCFD PIO. This ensures that we’re getting the right information out to the public, the media, and the fire department that is grieving the loss of their members.” 

In that room with Cardella was a BCFD fire academy instructor who serves as a liaison to the families of the fallen firefighters and ensures that their wishes are honored for the viewings and funerals. He also sings with Cardella in her church choir. They provided support for each other during this difficult assignment.  

Carin Cardella, MA, MS
Carin Cardella, public information officer for UMB Police and Public Safety, answers questions for members of the media outside a funeral for one of the Baltimore City Fire Department members.

“Every morning, we have a hug,” she said. “We’ll go out in the hallway and have that moment of humanness in the midst of the tragedy.” 

Cardella also attended the firefighters’ funerals, which she described as tragic. She worked with the media in the staging area to answer their questions.  

“I watched the family come by, and just knowing the number of people who have all worked around the clock to honor that firefighter’s loss and life and to remember them is incredibly moving,” she said. “You could hear a pin drop. It’s absolutely silent, even with thousands of people standing there. It’s astonishing. To just think of their service and what they gave to us, it makes it all worth it.” 

‘UMB Stepped Up to Help’ 

The IMT members worked 12-hour shifts each day.   

“UMB isn’t in a bubble. We’re intertwined with the neighborhoods and the communities we serve,” Cardella said. “This deployment was difficult physically and emotionally, but it was important.” 

Thomas Leone, MSL, UMB’s assistant vice president for public safety and chief of police, said UMB stands ready to help the community and its partners when they are in need. 

“During an emergency, we all rely on our partners for support. When the Baltimore City Fire Department suffered multiple line-of-duty deaths, UMB stepped up to help,” he said. “Carin’s expertise in crisis communications makes her a great asset to us at UMB and to our local and state partners. Lending her talents to help a partner in crisis aligns with our University’s mission and core values. It’s a no-brainer.” 

Cardella said she is grateful to UMB’s leadership for approving her deployment.  

“I think it’s so wonderful that UMB, through its mission and its core values, reaches beyond our campus to support the city of Baltimore, and UMB sees the value that their employees can bring to support the city during a time of crisis,” she said. “I’m glad that I could be there to play a very small role in this response, but it’s about the firefighters who died and their families and the community that continues to grieve them. 

“The response shows the impact that we can have when we work together and bring all of our gifts and our talents to support the larger community.” 

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Jen Badie

Jen Badie is the assistant director of editorial services in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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