County’s Emergency Services director appointed to state board that focuses on 911 services

Gov. DeSantis’ office announces five new members

Rich Collins addresses the county commissioners in April 2020. File image

In late December 2023, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis informed the county commissioners that Rich Collins, director of the Emergency Services Department, was one of five individuals whom Gov. Ron DeSantis had appointed to the state’s Emergency Communications Board.

In his Dec. 20 email, Lewis wrote, “We are lucky to have a staff team working at the county that are at the top of their profession. Sometimes we see that reflected in the role they play in their professional organizations or accreditation, but sometimes it is from external sources.”

“Rich’s service on [the Emergency Communications Board] will bring positive attention to our community as well as knowledge and learning that will improve our community,” Lewis added in his email.

New commission Chair Michael Moran responded, “Fantastic!  Well deserved.”

The website of the Florida Department of Management Services explains, “The Emergency Communications Board, established by the Florida legislature in 2023, is composed of nine members. The secretary of the Department of Management Services designates the chair of the board. The governor appoints four members who are county 911 coordinators and four members from fields that include, but are not limited to, law enforcement, fire response, emergency medical services, public safety dispatch, and telecommunications.

“The Emergency Communications Board meets with the goal of making Florida a national leader in 911 services,” the website continues. “The Emergency Communications Board provides unified leadership for all 911 issues through planning and coordination. The Emergency Communications Board advocates 911 issues related to system functions, features, and operations to enhance 911 services in this state and considers emerging technology and related cost savings for the benefit and safety of our residents and visitors,” the website adds.

On July 18, 2014, then-County Administrator Tom Harmer announced that Collins, the emergency management director of Osceola County, would fill the Sarasota County vacancy created by the May 2014 retirement of Fire Department Chief Mike Tobias.

The news release noted that Collins was scheduled to begin work Aug. 4, 2014, bringing with him 25 years of public safety experience.

“We are pleased to welcome Rich and his family to Sarasota County,” said Harmer in the release. “We’re confident that Rich will do a great job leading our Emergency Services team here.”

Originally from the Chicago area, that news release added, Collins was no stranger to Sarasota County: “My family’s love of Florida has always been with the southwest area, and Sarasota County is exactly where we want to be,” said Collins in the release.

In his role with Osceola County, Collins was responsible for planning, preparedness, recovery and mitigation to and from disasters, the release explained, as well as that county’s intergovernmental communications.

A former fire chief, the release said, Collins holds degrees in organizational management and leadership.

Ed McCrane. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With Ed McCrane having left county employment last summer after serving for 18 years as the emergency management chief — and no replacement yet to be named — Collins has taken a more prominent role in public relations, along with his other responsibilities. For example, when Hurricane Idalia threatened the Southwest Florida coast in August 2023, Collins addressed community residents about preparedness issues related to the storm.

The formal announcement from the Governor’s Office, issued on Dec. 20, said that, along with Collins, DeSantis had named Christian Chavez, Jamie Cruse, Rob LaVielle and Billy Woods to the Emergency Communications Board.

The notice provided the following details about the appointees:

  • “Collins is the Emergency Services Director for Sarasota County. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force Reserve. Active in his community, he is a member of the Florida Emergency Professionals Association, the Florida City County Managers Association and the International Association of Emergency Management. Collins earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Palm Beach Atlantic University.”
  • “Chavez is a Captain for the Miami Beach Fire Rescue. He is a current member of the International Association of Firefighters. Chavez earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lynn University and his master’s degree in public administration from Barry University.”
  • Cruse is the Chief of Police for the Perry Police Department. He is a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association Board of Directors and an executive member of the Boys and Girls Club of North Central Florida. The current President of the Third Judicial Circuit Chief’s and Sheriff’s Association, Cruse has over 25 years of law enforcement experience.
  • LaVielle is the FirstNet Market Manager of Florida, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. He is the former President of the Florida State Soccer Association and the Region Three Director of the United States Adult Soccer Association. LaVielle earned his bachelor’s degree in business and marketing from Tampa College.
  • Woods is the Marion County Sheriff. He currently serves as a Commissioner for the Commission of Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation and the Treasurer of the Florida Sheriffs Association. Woods earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration and business management from Columbia Southern University.”