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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.
Milan Kovacevic
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Station 1 is shown in this undated photo.
New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season
New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season GUEST: Colin Stowell, San Diego Fire Chief

The city of San Diego's new fire chief Collin's STOL is preparing for fire season. He was sworn in last week following a national search to replace interim chief Kevin Astor. The San Diego native started his career with the fire department in 1988. He served in several positions from captain to Assistant Chief. In 2016 he moved on to lead Heartland Fire and Rescue in the mesa. He CBS's Jane Heidemann chats with the new chief about his vision for the department chiefs. Thanks so much for joining us here today. So tell me what's your vision and hope for the fire department. Well my vision for the fire department. You know I was with the San Diego fire for just over 28 years. I left for a short almost two years to be a fire chief somewhere else. I just got to come back home. Back to Santiago Fire Rescue and work with the dedicated men and women of this department. My vision for the department is really to hopefully continue the support from the city leaders and from our elected officials to provide the resources the training or the infrastructure that we need to protect the city. Certainly staffing is a big goal of mine and a vision to have a full fully staffed diverse workforce. And then. Really lastly is to just continue being members in this community you know to be. To be partners in our community to provide the protection that they need. But really it's a partnership with us and the community. So being part of that community. And you mentioned getting the staffing up. What's the where's the staffing at right now. Well we are short staffing right now and it fluctuates so much based on deployments strike teams fire activity retirements. And so it's a moving target for us to keep on on track for sure. But also retention is one of our big goals here and we're constantly trying to maintain the workforce that we have and retain them here. There's competition all throughout the state and throughout the country for firefighters and for that skill. And so we want to make sure we attract the best and we retain the best as well. And you'd have to do that by being competitive no doubt. We do. Absolutely. And I really feel like a big part of that as well is job satisfaction. And if they're happy working for the city of San Diego and the services that we provide and the gratification that they take when they go home every day from going from formwork then that'll keep people around as well. So what do you anticipate for this upcoming fire season. We're not even there yet. We have fires everywhere. What do you think. No we we say it every year. I know it becomes kind of a cry wolf that it's going to be the worst fire season. We are actually seeing that right now with the fires that we have. And when you've got one complex fire alone that's over 350000 acres and we're not even into our peak we're 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 kind of hone in on their skills again and go through some training communications do the wildland drills that we'd like them to do and then that's our time as management to also make sure that the agreements are in place with our partners around the county as well as through the state for cost sharing reimbursement side's mutual aid agreements as well and just making sure that we're all on the same page and being able to help each other. Seems like a lot of moving parts and like you really just had to kind of jump right in that in mind. How important is it to quickly get that staffing up. It is. And our members are certainly their true professionals and they're dedicated to making sure that our communities are safe. And with that also comes working long and a lot of extra hours and they they have stepped up to the plate to do that. And we're very thankful that they're doing that as we start to work towards bringing up staffing. We've got our next fire academy is scheduled in October with 36 members. And we hope that that's going to also make make a significant difference as well. So we always hear about these brush and the brush fires and they often happen out in the back country. What's the risk for an urban brushfire. Well we certainly have it in San Diego and it's what we call a wild land urban interface and that's anytime you have homes or structures that that. But up against canyons or brush area it's certainly a risk for all of us. And we know that living here and in the city of San Diego again this was this was a partnership with them. We have over 45000 homes that sit on Canyon rims that up against Rush to be able to monitor that track that and mitigate those those risks just having leaving that responsibility to the fire department or the park and Rex is just a daunting task. We need the community to to assist and step up and take some of that responsibility of clearing those defensible spaces behind their homes. And I'm going to ask what can people do to be proactive in mitigating some of that so they can certainly look at their own property we have the what we call the defensible space in that 100 feet backing up against their home that we would like them to thin out the brush. That will slow any approaching fire. There they have they can remove combustibles that's around their homes they can look at the the makeup of their roof. Also the the venting around their chimneys those are some things that they can certainly do on their own to get the specifics on that. I would encourage you to go to our Web site you go to Sandigo dot gov slash fire and you can get all of the information on the ready set go as well as the brush management tips in the zones and that recommendations that we that we should just take in switching gears from brush fires to structure fires. I know that fire suppression systems can sort of be a defense on save property and life are some. Talk to me about some of the older buildings in the city of San Diego. Are they up to the same standard as some of the newer construction in terms of fire suppression systems. Well they certainly are not up to the same standards because they were not built under the same codes. Some of the life safety codes are still in place and we certainly enforce those the fire codes that fall under the newer construction. As you know are just along with technology are just a robust and very detailed code that allow that allow the residents of those buildings to certainly feel much much safer. The older buildings are catching up to those and the owners are aware of those those issues and we certainly inspect those buildings every year and we work with those owners to mitigate any of those code violations that we that we find. All right. And stepping into this position is there anything else you'd like to add. You know I'm happy to be back home with the fire department that I grew up with with the men and women that make up this department and I've just been thrilled and excited to return. And it is truly a blessing. So thank you. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you Jake. Appreciate it. That was San Diego's new fire chief calling Stoll. Speaking with PBS reporter Jade Hindmon.

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.

New San Diego Fire Chief Prepares For Fire Season
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.