City Council Confirms Appointment of SDFD Chief Colin Stowell
By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
Increasing diversity, cooperative partnerships, and having the most advanced equipment and training were just some of the key issues newly appointed San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell identified as his goals for the department.
Stowell, who began his career with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department 30 years ago as a “wide-eyed” 20-year-old, spoke before council members on Monday to express his desire for their support.
“I stand before you here today, not as wide-eyed and a little less hair but certainly just as excited and passionate about this department and my career,” Stowell said.
The San Diego City Council unanimously confirmed the appointment of Chief Stowell on Monday, among members of the public, first responders, and Stowell’s family.
The official confirmation of his appointment follows a three-month national search that drew 33 candidates. Stowell will be assuming office Aug. 11, and succeeds Kevin Easter, who has served as Interim Chief since April.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer appointed Stowell to serve as the city’s next fire chief on July 2. During Monday’s meeting, Faulconer shared why Stowell was the best candidate for the job.
“He is a man of integrity, he cares deeply about our city, and understands the unique challenges that we have, including the now year-round wildfire season and the safety of our region,” Faulconer said. “He’s going to be a great leader for this department.”
Stowell spoke before the council about his commitment to the department and identified priorities that he hopes to address.
The new fire chief hopes to ensure the department has the most advanced equipment, best trained personal, expand aerial firefighting resources, and increase cooperative partnerships with neighboring agencies.
He shared that from his experience of being on the front lines during the 2003 Cedar Fire and 2007 Witch Fire, he is aware of the need to promote fire adapted communities – informed and prepared communities and residents who live in an area with wildfire hazards.
Stowell also addressed the need to work toward a more diverse department.
“Several years ago the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department had a reputation as being one of the most culturally diverse fire departments in the nation and employed more women firefighters than any other large metropolitan department, unfortunately over time things have changed,” Stowell said.
The chief plans to work closely with San Diego City Firefighters IAFF Local 145, Teamsters Local 911, Brothers United San Diego Firefighters, and Bomberos de San Diego.
“Having a workforce that reflects the communities that we protect and recognition and appreciation for the variety of cultures we serve makes us a more effective and stronger organization,” Stowell said.
Jesse Conner, president of San Diego City Firefighters IAFF Local 145, spoke before the council and thanked the mayor for including the firefighters on the community interview panel.
“Although all of them were qualified, the firefighters were very proud that the final selection is one of our own,” Conner said. “We look forward to Fire Chief Stowell’s leadership and we will support him as he assumes his new and challenging role.”
Stowell joined the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department in 1988 and rose through the ranks to assistant fire chief.
In 2016, he left to lead Heartland Fire and Rescue, which serves the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, and Lemon Grove.
The San Diego native said he grew up in areas of north county moving from rental home to rental home with his single mom and three younger siblings, who he helped raise.
“It was obvious to me at the young age of 8 that nothing was going to come easy, and everything I might want out of life was only going to come through hard work, dedication, challenging myself in finding a passion and purpose for what I do,” Stowell shared with the City Council on Monday.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University and holds an associate degree in fire science from San Diego Miramar College.
Council members expressed their support for Stowell and each shared remark on what his vision for the department means to community members and where this is room to improve.
Stowell will oversee a department of more than 1,200 firefighters, lifeguards, and staff.