San Diego Firefighters Push for One of Their Own to Lead Department

A group of San Diego firefighters wants the city’s new fire chief to come from inside the department, and have launched an online petition.

David Garrick
The San Diego Union-Tribune

A group of San Diego firefighters wants the city’s new fire chief to come from inside the department, and they’ve launched an online petition to persuade Mayor Todd Gloria.

More than 1,000 people, many of them city firefighters, have signed a petition at endorsing Deputy Chief Robert Logan as the best candidate to take over for retiring Chief Colin Stowell this summer.

The campaign supporting Logan comes as the candidate field has been whittled down this spring to him and two longtime firefighters from outside the department.

They are Baryic Hunter from the Orange County Fire Authority and Felipe Rodriguez from the Cosumnes Fire Department south of Sacramento.

Logan has been called a rising star and is well-respected by his peers. For the past three years he has been a deputy chief — one level below assistant chief, the rank most previous chiefs held before getting promoted.

While Hunter and Rodriguez work elsewhere, they are both familiar with San Diego.

Hunter began his firefighting career for the Carlsbad Fire Department and worked for the San Diego Fire Department from 2001 to 2008. Rodriguez was a battalion chief, fire marshal and training chief for the Oceanside Fire Department.

San Diego hasn’t hired an outsider to run its Fire-Rescue Department in more than two decades.

City firefighters usually oppose hiring an outsider based on concerns someone from another fire agency would struggle to understand the department’s culture and face a steep learning curve.

An outsider, they say, could be unfamiliar with some of the department’s emergency management protocols, how the city handles its wildland-urban interface and San Diego’s unusual topography with many canyons.

The last outsider the city hired to run the department was Jeff Bowman, who was the top fire official in Anaheim before San Diego hired him away in 2002.

The petition, which was launched by Fire Battalion Chief Robert Bunsold on May 23, includes testimonials praising Logan and urging the mayor not to hire an outsider.

“Promoting from within, a highly qualified candidate, is good for the department, community and morale,” said Chris Dubois. “It shows members a path to success.”

A commenter identified as Debra Cerruto agreed. “Robert Logan is dedicated, honorable and hard working,” she said. “Hire from within your (qualified) and talented workforce.”

And Ty Shimoguchi, a battalion chief, said the mayor should pick someone who has stuck with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. “Rob Logan is the best candidate and has been loyal to our department,” he said.

A description of Logan accompanying the petition says he would boost morale. “At a time when workforce morale is at an all-time low, he has overwhelming support from the workforce because of his team-building skills,” it says. “Chief Logan is committed to the values of fairness, honesty, compassion and respect.”

The description also highlights Logan’s upbringing in San Diego Council District 4, which includes many low-income neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego.

“Growing up in Council District 4 Chief Logan has become a beacon of light, strength and hope for everyone who has overcome adversity,” it says. “His life journey is an inspiration to everyone who hopes for a better tomorrow and a brighter future.”

The city and the mayor have indicated diversity might be a key factor in deciding who becomes the next chief. Logan and Hunter are Black, and Rodriguez is Latino.

In a brochure created this spring for fire chief applicants, the city says “the ideal candidate will integrate a myriad of new approaches that include eliminating discriminatory practices rooted within inequitable systems, expanding training around systemic racism to address implicit/explicit biases and encouraging a climate of culture diversity.”

Hunter, who graduated from University of San Diego High School in 1991, has worked his way up through the ranks of the Orange County Fire Authority, from firefighter/paramedic to fire captain and battalion chief. He also runs a real estate business he launched in 2015.

Rodriguez led the Folsom Fire Department for several years before taking over in Cosumnes. Before that, he was a firefighter in Stockton and Oceanside. He’s a native of San Francisco.

The new chief will take over as the city remains in flux on how it handles ambulance service. Stowell said this month he will soon launch a comprehensive analysis to determine whether to bring ambulance service completely in-house or stick with a model where the city deploys private ambulances under a partnership.

The city is also slated to increase its number of fire stations from 51 to 56 in the next few years. New stations are slated for the Torrey Pines area, Black Mountain Ranch, Otay Mesa, Skyline Hills and Fairmount Avenue in City Heights.

To gather information on what city residents want in a new chief, the city launched an online survey in March and held two evening public forums.

San Diego also hired Bob Murray & Associates, an executive recruitment firm, to lead a national search. The deadline for applications closed April 22. The salary range listed for the job is $300,000 to $325,000.

Interviews with finalists were scheduled this month, and the mayor says he’ll make a selection in June. Under that schedule, the City Council would confirm the mayor’s choice in July, and the new chief would take over when Stowell retires in August.

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This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2024 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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