Escondido names new fire chief

Escondido Deputy Fire Chief Russ Knowles becomes fire chief on June 5.

Escondido Fire Department changes its guard in two weeks as Deputy Fire Chief Russell “Russ” Knowles replaces Chief Mike Lowry who retires after nearly 34 years with Escondido Fire.

Lowry departs on June 3. Knowles takes command on June 5. As for Saturday, June 4? Don’t cry for Escondido, it’ll be fine, officials say.

Knowles’ salary will be $183,214 annually. He’s no piker either, having spent 25 years in the fire fighting biz.

In making the announcement Monday, City Manager Graham Mitchell said, “Chief Knowles will continue Escondido’s tradition of providing a highly professional level of medical and fire service. I look forward to his innovative perspective to service delivery.”

Knowles knows the lay of the department quite well. He is responsible for day-to-day operations including supervision of three Battalion Chiefs and the Training and EMS Division. Knowles joined the Escondido Fire Department as a Firefighter 1991. He has risen through the ranks, working as a Firefighter Paramedic, Fire Captain, Battalion Chief, Division Chief and Deputy Fire Chief.

Fowler has a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Administration from Cogswell Polytechnic College as well as an Associate’s Degree with a major in Public Fire Service.  Russ served as the Chair of the North Zone Operations Chiefs and the North Zone liaison to the San Diego County Operations committee. He also has served as President for the Escondido Firefighter’s Association.

Jeff Sargis, President of the Escondido Fire Fighters Association, said, “On behalf of the Escondido Firefighters Association, I extend our congratulations to Chief Knowles on his promotion. I look forward to our future and believe the department and community will prosper under the leadership of Chief Knowles.”

Lowry actually retired last year, but the retirement didn’t take. It happened as longtime Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips announced his own surprise retirement ate last year. Since Mitchell, then-Assistant City Manager was just assuming his new duties, Lowry agreed to stay on as interim Fire Chief for six months.

It’s been a season of turn, turn, turn for top Escondido officials. Aside from Mitchell, Community Development (Planning) Director Barbara Redlitz retired. Longtime city official Jay Petrek replaced her. Petrek quickly got promoted again, this time to assistant city manager when Mitchell became city manager. Bill Martin was appointed Interim Director of Community Development.

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