Fire chief who led in Ghost Ship aftermath leaves Oakland, hired at San Rafael

Chief Darin White took the helm at the Oakland department during the turbulent aftermath of the warehouse blaze that killed 36


Matthew Pera
The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — Oakland fire Chief Darin White has been named the new chief of the San Rafael Fire Department, the city announced Thursday.

White, a longtime Oakland firefighter, took the helm of that city’s troubled fire department in 2017, in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship inferno. He has more than three decades of firefighting experience.

The city of San Rafael has announced that Oakland Fire Chief Darin White has been hired to lead the San Rafael Fire Department starting in April. White will be leaving the Oakland department where he took the helm in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 in 2016. (Photo/City of San Rafael)
The city of San Rafael has announced that Oakland Fire Chief Darin White has been hired to lead the San Rafael Fire Department starting in April. White will be leaving the Oakland department where he took the helm in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 in 2016. (Photo/City of San Rafael)

“With the threat of wildfire on everyone’s mind and a new public safety center nearing completion, this position is key for us as an organization and as a community,” City Manager Jim Schutz said in statement announcing the hiring Thursday. “We were looking for someone innovative, compassionate, and genuine, and we found him.”

White, 52, will take over the top post from Interim Chief Robert Sinnott, who was appointed to that role when former chief Christopher Gray retired after 12 years. Sinnott will continue with the department as deputy chief, a role he has held since 2015.

“I’m very excited,” White said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s actually happening.”

A lifelong Oakland resident, White joined the Oakland Fire Department in 1998 after a decade fighting fires for the Port of Oakland. He was appointed Oakland’s interim chief when the city’s top fire official retired following the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire.

The Ghost Ship blaze was the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history, killing 36 people. It left the community reeling and was a turbulent time for the fire department, which faced criticism for failing to properly inspect the warehouse.

White “had seen the struggles that the Ghost Ship fire caused for the agency and had the pulse of the people, so he was probably the right person to step in,” said Marin Professional Firefighters Association president John Bagala, a former Marinwood fire captain.

White said he worked on forging a greater connection between Oakland’s fire prevention specialists and its firefighters when he took over as chief. He said that strategy will also be crucial in San Rafael, which has worked to expand its prevention program in recent years.

Bagala said White brings “a lot of good potential” to San Rafael during what he called a time of transition for fire agencies in Marin. With some departments sharing services or consolidating, and with awareness of the county’s fire risk growing among residents, “bringing in people from the outside can be pretty cathartic,” he said.

White is scheduled to begin his new role in San Rafael on April 15. His pay will be $193,824, city officials said. His 2018 salary in Oakland was $233,272, according to Transparent California.

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©2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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