Former fire chief climbs ladder to state role

The former deputy fire chief and then interim fire chief for Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) said at the time she retired in February that she would enjoy about six months away from the fire service before looking for her next role.

Last week, almost exactly six months later, Rice was sworn in to a new role in the Florida State Fire Marshal’s office. Her official title is assistant director of the Division of the State Fire Marshal, and her responsibilities are as wide ranging as her 30 years of experience with GFR.

“It’s very similar to what I was doing in Gainesville, except it’s at the state level,” Rice said.

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

In her new role, she will be responsible for administration, the Bureau of Fire Prevention and the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training, which are similar to her areas of responsibility as GFR’s deputy chief—administration, training and prevention.

“Everything sounded really familiar,” Rice said in a phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. “It’s not like I’m starting from scratch.”

JoAnne Rice mug

When she retired from GFR, Rice was looking for some well-deserved time off, but also for the next step in a career that already spanned every position from firefighter to interim chief. She said at the time she wasn’t quite ready to take her skill set and experience and head off into the sunset.

Now, she said she’s found a new job that puts all of her knowledge and her wide set of experiences to use.

“I am really excited about it,” Rice said. “When this job came open, I said ‘Hey, I think that’s the job for me; it feels like the right one.’ I didn’t apply for any other fire chief positions—I applied for this one.”

The sections and bureaus that Rice will help keep tabs on do everything from compiling a statewide database of fire incident reports to coordinating statewide responses involving hazard materials teams or urban search and rescue.

On the prevention side, the division is responsible for inspecting state buildings as well as overseeing other safety issues from boiler inspections to mine blasting. Another bureau within the division monitors certification and training standards for the state firefighters and fire inspectors, and runs the Florida State Fire College.

During disasters, such as hurricanes or the condo building collapse in Surfside, Rice might end up deployed to an operations center in the field or representing the division at the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

“Each day I learn something different, something new. Oh, hey, we’re over that too,” Rice said. “As they say, I am drinking from the fire hose.”

While Rice was with GFR, she tackled fires, hazard materials, SWAT teams, paramedicine, and large-scale emergencies, but the new job brings a challenge even the experienced Rice hasn’t quite mastered yet: the Florida Legislature.

“The new thing for me is the legislative affairs portion of this job,” Rice said.

The Division of State Fire Marshal keeps tabs on the Florida fire prevention code, which gets updated every three years, and works with the Legislature to develop draft language for new additions and amendments to existing fire-related state laws.

But even that challenge might be just a matter of scaling up her experiences with GFR.

“I went before the commission in Gainesville, but it’s just that next level, having to sit down and really advocate for a bill,” Rice said. “To say [to legislators]: ‘This is what we need’ or ‘This is what this means’ or ‘When you change this one word, this is what you do to the whole thing.’ ”

Rice said she is keeping her house in Gainesville, but will spend the workweek in Tallahassee. However, the new position also is likely to keep her on the road, visiting various regions in Florida to talk to fire personnel and representing the state at fire-related conferences and meetings.

“That’s exciting to me, the people aspect of the job,” Rice said. “I like that networking. I like meeting people. I like getting some face to face [time], so when something bad happens, I know who I am working with.”

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments