Former deputy chief of Orange County Fire Rescue named new chief of Sarasota County Fire Department

Rathbun expected to start employment on Nov. 7

David Rathbun, who served for more than 30 years at Orange County Fire Rescue, has been named the new chief of the Sarasota County Fire Department, following a nationwide search, the county announced on Sept. 23.

During his career with the Orange County organization, “Rathbun rose through the ranks, providing direction and leadership for nearly every division,” a county news release notes.

“Chief Rathbun brings valuable experience, along with a deep knowledge of the fire service in the state of Florida, to Sarasota County as the next fire chief,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said in the release. “He has a strong understanding of leading a fire department that provides life-saving service to a community,” Lewis continued.

“We are grateful to Mike Hartley, whose dedicated service in the role of acting fire chief was instrumental during the search for Sarasota County Fire Department’s new chief,” Lewis added.

In a Sept. 22 email he sent to the County Commission just after 8:30 p.m., Lewis wrote, “I am excited to inform you that we have found a new Fire Chief. Rich Collins and team have put a great deal of effort into finding someone who matches well with Sarasota and can continue to move the Department forward. … If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me tomorrow.”

Collins is the director of the county’s Emergency Services Department.

In 1989, Rathbun began his employment with Orange County Fire Rescue as a firefighter/EMT, the release says. He served as a lieutenant, battalion chief, assistant chief, division chief of logistics, division chief of operations and division chief of planning and technical services, the release points out.

He retired as the department’s deputy fire chief in January, the release notes.

A post that the Orange County Fire Rescue Department put up on its Facebook page in Sept. 21, 2019 noted that Rathbun had been promoted to deputy chief earlier that year.

“Chief Rathbun values long-term planning for fire and emergency medical services,” Sarasota County Emergency Services Director Collins said in the release. “He also believes in connecting with the community, and how important those qualities are to a fire department.”

During his 32 years with Orange County Fire Rescue, the news continues, Rathbun managed fire operations, emergency medical services and special operations, and fleet and equipment needs for the department, which has more than 1,500 members. He developed standard operating procedures, long-term station location and facility capital improvement plans, and implemented a strategic planning process and new computer-aided dispatch system, along with managing the department’s re-accreditation process, the release points out.

“The opportunity to work with the heroes of Sarasota County Fire Department is an extraordinary one,” Rathbun said in the release. “I look forwarding to getting to know them and deepen the ties we have with our residents and visitors,”

Rathbun holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing. “He also proudly served in the United States Navy from 1983 to 1987,” the release points out.

Rathbun, who is a native Floridian, and his wife, Michele, have five children and eight grandchildren, the release adds.

He is expected to start his new role with the Sarasota County Fire Department on Nov. 7, the release notes. His salary will be $150,009.60, Sara Nealeigh, media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Department, told The Sarasota News Leader when it requested the information.

The News Leader also submitted a public records request of Orange County staff to learn the salary Rathbun was making upon his retirement in that jurisdiction. Kelly Finkelstein, senior public information officer for Orange County Government, told the News Leader in a Sept. 27 email that Rathbun was making $72.71 an hour when he retired. Therefore, the News Leader calculated his annual pay as slightly more than $151,000.

Rathbun will succeed Chief Michael Regnier, who left the county Fire Department on Dec. 27, 2021 to become a shift commander and assistant chief of the Longboat Key Fire Department.

Regnier had been with the Sarasota County Fire Department for more than six years, he noted in a statement that Nealeigh of Emergency Services provided from him to the News Leader. In that statement, Regnier pointed out of the Longboat Key position, “The opportunity will allow me to spend more time with my family while continuing to serve the community.”

At the time Regnier made the transition, he went to work for Town Manager Tom Harmer, who served as Sarasota County administrator from 2014 to 2018. Harmer left in December 2018 to take the job with Longboat Key.

Regnier’s salary upon his departure from the county Fire Department was $140,524.80, Nealeigh told the News Leader.