Full church honors Merced County fire captain who died in line of duty

A decorated Merced County Cal Fire captain was laid to rest Thursday after a traditional processional through the city of Merced and services at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Capt. Paul Rotondaro died in a traffic crash on Highway 140 near the Gustine airport, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Rotondaro had left the Gustine Cal Fire Station 74 and was heading to another station when the head-on collision occurred, Merced County Cal Fire spokesperson Scott McLean said.

Rotondaro started his Merced County firefighting career in 2006. He was selected as the 2018 Merced County Firefighter of the Year, according to the Merced County Office of Emergency Services.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who attended Thursday’s service, issued a statement honoring Rotondaro, calling him “a man who dedicated his life to protecting his fellow Californians. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife and children, family, friends, and colleagues. His contribution to his community will not be forgotten.”

Rotondaro left behind a wife, Jennifer, 13-year-old daughter Kiersten and 16-month-old son Wyatt, McLean said.

In a release, Cal Fire said, “Captain Rotondaro was a dedicated family man and is quoted saying, ‘I never knew it was possible to love someone so completely and without reservation. My amazing wife gave me two great kids and makes me so happy!’ His incredible sense of humor, loyalty and willingness to help others will not be forgotten.”

Close to 1,000 people attended Thursday’s services, which included an honor guard, a badge presentation, a flag presentation, bell ringing, music detail and the traditional firefighters’ last alarm.

To support his family, The Habit Burger Grill locations in Los Banos, Turlock and Modesto are holding an all-day fundraiser Tuesday, Oct. 15. The event is in partnership with Police and Fire: The Fallen Heroes and the restaurants will donate 20% of sales when the customer presents a flyer.