Mayor Faulconer appoints San Diego Fire-Rescue Veteran as new Fire Chief

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – After a three-month national search, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer today announced the appointment of Heartland Fire & Rescue Chief Colin Stowell as the next chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD).

Stowell began his firefighting career at SDFD in 1988 and served in every rank in the department, including Assistant Chief, before leaving in 2016 to lead Heartland Fire.

Stowell, who was strongly recommended by both the community and professional interview panels, brings a wide-range of experience that will benefit the department and its more than 1,200 firefighters, lifeguards and support staff.

“Chief Stowell was born and raised here in San Diego and spent the majority of his firefighting career protecting our neighborhoods and our residents,” Mayor Faulconer said. “He has the right experience at the right time to continue the major investments we’re making in public safety and lead this department into the future. It’s great to bring Chief Stowell back to SDFD where it all started.”

Chief Stowell will take over the department following recent significant investments made by Mayor Faulconer and the City Council, including new firefighting helicopters and the construction or renovation of nine fire stations over the last three years.

As San Diego’s Assistant Fire Chief, Chief Stowell oversaw the Emergency Operations division, which includes 48 fire stations, lifeguard services, the training division, emergency medical services, and special operations comprising hazardous materials, air operations, the bomb squad, and fire investigations. He led more than 845 sworn personnel and 240 full-time or seasonal lifeguards.

“My career in the fire service began as a member of this great organization. There is no higher honor, personally or professionally, than to have the opportunity to build on this history by leading this esteemed department and its dedicated members in the coming years,” Stowell said. “As Fire Chief, I recognize the critical importance of continuing to provide compassionate and professional emergency services that distinguish this department, and ones that citizens and visitors to our city both deserve and expect. Fortunately, the city leaders and elected officials are tremendous advocates of the fire service in San Diego, and I feel extremely optimistic moving forward with such support and shared commitment to these priorities.”

Chief Stowell previously held leadership roles in the SDFD’s operations and emergency medical services divisions. As a Captain, he served as the department’s Wellness Officer and developed the initial concept and procedures for SDFD’s regional Wellness Program. As a Deputy Chief and Assistant Fire Chief, he served on the San Diego All-Hazards Incident Management team as Incident Commander and Operations Section Chief.

“Colin Stowell is lauded by his peers, and respected by other fire agencies,” said City Councilmember Chris Cate, Chair of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee. “I’m excited for what will come under Colin’s leadership.”

Chief Stowell spent the past few years as chief of Heartland Fire & Rescue, which serves the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove. There he has been responsible for management and oversight of 127 sworn and civilian fire department staff, policy administration, development of four separate operating budgets as well as capital improvement projects, contract negotiations and oversight, and emergency management coordination with other city departments.

“I am pleased to welcome Chief Colin Stowell back to the City of San Diego. We are fortunate to have such an experienced and capable manager for our Fire-Rescue Department,” said City Councilmember Lorie Zapf. “I look forward working with Chief Stowell to deliver the best public safety services to the residents of San Diego.”

Feedback from community and professional panels were important factors in Mayor Faulconer’s ultimate decision to appoint Chief Stowell.

Community and professional officials who participated in the interview process were:

  • Dimitrios Alexiou, Hospital Association of San Diego County
  • Ronald Cho, Park and Recreation Board
  • George Durado, San Diego City Firefighters Association Local 145
  • Jim Geering, Chula Vista Fire Chief
  • Stephen Groce, Human Relations Commission
  • Susan Jester, Citizens Equal Opportunity Commission
  • Rick Robinson, Oceanside Fire Chief
  • Wendy Robinson, San Diego Fire-Rescue Foundation
  • Chris Vanos, Teamsters 911
  • Nick Wright, Municipal Employees Association.

Chief Stowell will succeed Kevin Ester, who has served as Interim Chief since April when former Chief Brian Fennessy left the department for a similar position in Orange County. Ester will remain in a leadership role within SDFD.

The City Council is expected to hold Stowell’s confirmation hearing later this month.

Chief Stowell earned his Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from San Diego State University, holds an associate’s degree in fire science from Miramar College and completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. He is a native San Diegan who lives in San Diego with his wife and two teenage children.

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