Manuel "Manny" Navarro, 65, will supervise the day-to-day operations of the district's seven fire stations and 100 emergency personnel, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.
"We're happy to have Manny back in California and honored to have him as part of our team," Chief Schapelhouman said in a statement. "His extensive experience, command presence, tactical abilities and people skills will be an asset to our community. He always places the community first and has a deep respect for our profession and firefighters."
The district serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and portions of unincorporated San Mateo County.
Mr. Navarro's experience includes managing rescue operations during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Highway 880 freeway collapse, and the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, the district said.
After leaving Oakland in 1994 he was hired as the fire chief for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, where he supervised 20 fire stations, 27 fire companies, two trauma units, 508 personnel and an annual budget of $53 million.
The Colorado Springs Gazette in June 2008 wrote an article about Mr. Navarro's planned retirement.
According to the newspaper, while the fire chief was hailed for his public service, his 14-year tenure with the department also saw controversy — at one point the city manager suspended him for one week for violating city policy by allowing his name and title to appear on a flier endorsing a commission candidate.
At other points during his service, the newspaper wrote, Mr. Navarro issued a gag order against his firefighters publicly criticizing policy decisions, which was rescinded after the ACLU sued, and also endured criticism in 2007 for driving fire vehicles to golf courses and possibly playing golf while on duty.
Mr. Navarro was not immediately available for comment.
Chief Schapelhouman said Mr. Navarro is not replacing anyone, but instead filling a position that was frozen a few years ago. The district decided to hire a chief to shift some of the workload off other positions. "It is a 24-7, 365 days a year job," he said. A vacant deputy chief position is expected to stay unfilled until the chief retires.