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New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Station 1 is shown in this undated photo.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Station 1 is shown in this undated photo.

New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season


Colin Stowell, San Diego Fire Chief


San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell is preparing for the next fire season.

He was sworn in last Monday, following a national search to replace interim chief Kevin Ester. Stowell started his career with San Diego Fire-Rescue in 1988. He served in several positions, from captain to assistant chief before he moved on to lead Heartland Fire and Rescue in La Mesa in 2016.

Stowell sat down with KPBS Reporter Jade Hindmon to explain his vision for the department and his strategy to prepare for the department for the upcoming fire season.

Here are some highlights from the interview.

Video: New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season

RELATED: Mayor Faulconer Swears In New San Diego Fire Chief

Q: So, you’re new. Tell me about your vision and hope for the fire department.

A: You know I was with San Diego Fire for just over 28 years. I left for a short time, almost 2 years, to be a fire chief somewhere else. I just got to come back home, back to San Diego Fire-Rescue and the dedicated men and women of this department. My vision for the department is to continue the support from city leaders and our elected officials. To provide resources, training and infrastructure to continue to protect the city. Certainly, staffing is a big goal of mine and a vision to have a fully staffed, diverse workforce. And really lastly, is to just continue being members in this community. To be partners in our community, to provide the protection that they need. But really, it’s a partnership with us and the community, being part of the community.

Q: You mentioned getting the staffing up. Where’s the staffing at right now?

A: Well we are short on staffing right now. We fluctuate so much based on deployment, strike teams, fire rescue activity and retirements. So it’s a moving target to keep on track. Also, retention is one of our big goals here. We’re constantly trying to maintain the workforce that we have and retain them here. There’s competition thru out the state and throughout the country, for firefighters and for that skill. We want to make sure we attract the best and we retain the best as well.

Q: What do you anticipate for this upcoming fire season? we're not even there yet and we have brush fires everywhere. What do you think?

A: We say it every year. I know it becomes a kind of “cry wolf”: that it’s going to be the worst fire season. We’re actually seeing that right now with the fires that we have. You’ve got one complex fire alone, that’s over 350,000 acres and we’re not even into our peak, not even into our Santa Ana season. It’s a struggle. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready for fire season. Our members train even before the fire season in what we call a wildland refresher training, where they hone in on their skills again and go thru some training, communications, do the wildland drills that we like them to do. Then it’s our time as management to make sure the agreements are in place and our partners around, the county as well thru the state, for cost-sharing reimbursement, mutual aid agreements. Making sure we’re all on the same page and able to help each other.

Q: We often hear about these brush fires. They're often out in backcountry. What's the risk for an urban wildfire?

A: We certainly have them in San Diego. they’re what we call a wildland interface. That’s any time you have homes or structures that but up against canyons or brush areas. It’s certainly a risk for all of us. We know that living in the city of San Diego. Again, this is a partnership with them. We have over 45,000 homes that sit on canyon rims, that but up against brush. To be able to monitor that, track that, mitigate those risks, leaving that responsibility to the fire department or park and recs is just a daunting task. We need the community to step up and take some of that responsibility of clearing those defensible spaces behind their homes.

San Diego's new fire chief, Colin Stowell, is preparing for the next fire season and one of his priorities is to recruit new firefighters and retain current staff members.


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