City Council approves new fire chief

Colin Stowell

SAN DIEGO — The City Council Monday unanimously approved the appointment of Colin Stowell as chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Stowell will assume command on Aug. 11. He takes over for Kevin Ester, who has been serving as interim fire chief since April.

Stowell, a San Diego native, began his career with the SDFD in 1988. He served as captain, battalion chief, deputy chief and assistant chief during his first tenure before leaving in 2016 to lead Heartland Fire & Rescue.

Though he has “a little less hair” and isn’t quite as “wide-eyed” as the 20-year-old who originally joined the department 30 years ago, Stowell said his excitement for SDFD remains undiminished.

“I’m grateful for all the members of the Fire-Rescue Department — all that they do in our community. I have routinely observed and taken pride in the professionalism displayed and the compassionate services provided by our members,” he said. “And now, I can once again say that I’m proud to be a member of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.”

Stowell identified several department priorities moving forward.

A veteran of the Cedar and Witch fires that burned hundreds of thousands of San Diego County acres in 2003 and 2007, respectively, he emphasized the need to promote fire adaptive communities and strong partnerships with neighboring fire agencies.

Stowell also prioritized increased staffing and retention, developing a next-generation EMS system, expanding aerial firefighting capabilities, exploring an emergency communication system and establishing a more diverse workforce in terms of gender and race.

City Councilman David Alvarez praised Stowell’s goal to diversify the department, but cautioned that it’s “much harder to achieve than saying you want to achieve it.”

Alvarez said his daughter has for several years wanted to become a firefighter.

“I hope future councils and mayors embrace this goal of yours, because it’s going to be very, very challenging,” he said. “But as someone who it’s more personal for now, I do hope we have a department that is more diverse in terms of females and in terms of backgrounds, because that’s the city we are and the city government we want to be.”

Mayor Kevin Faulconer appointed Stowell after a national search that included interview panels with local firefighters.

Stowell previously oversaw SDFD’s emergency operations division. He also spent time as the department’s wellness officer, and he was in charge of training for medical services and special operations.

“Those of us that have had the opportunity to work with the chief know that he is a man of integrity, he cares deeply about our city and understands the unique challenges we have, including a now year-round wildfire season and the safety of our beaches,” Faulconer said. “He’s going to be a great leader for this department.”