David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

It was only a matter of time before Laura Kavanagh, the New York City Fire Department’s first woman commissioner, would catch hell for simply trying to do her job.  Her detractors were bound to put up a fight.  Last month, a half-dozen of the FDNY’s most senior command staff took their insolence a step further and stepped down en masse.

The FDNY Neanderthals, the apotheoses of hate, are lashing out because they truly believe the FDNY belongs to them, not NYC taxpayers. In doing so, they’re challenging Mayor Eric Adams’ authority and temperament.  They’re throwing down the gauntlet at the city’s second Black mayor, the first being David N. Dinkins, elected in 1989.

The mayor must put them down.  He appointed Kavanagh, well aware of the need to confront the overt racism and sexism in the FDNY that made it a bastion of white male privilege for nearly 150 years.  At base, the FDNY had a leadership problem, and she brings to the job a mandate and perspective that have never been heretofore represented among those appointed to lead the department.

Adams has the political currency to break up, once and for all, the FDNY’s culture of employment discrimination and firehouse bigotry against Blacks, Latinos, women and gay people that has been all too acceptable. As a former New York City police captain, Adams publicly took on questionable police practices.  Unlike Mayor Bill de Blasio’s doublespeak, broken promises and missed opportunities to make lasting change at the FDNY – and the NYPD for that matter – Adams knows his responsibility to stop the FDNY’s shenanigans. 

The irony is thick: The lion’s share of firefighters is overwhelming white, live outside of the five boroughs, do not vote in city elections and tend not to have a vested interest in the neighborhoods where they work.   Adams was brought to power by voters from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, outside the traditional city power center.  The coalition also elected a City Council for the first time that looks like our racially and ethnically diverse boroughs.

Kavanagh has signaled plans to quickly step up the recruiting, hiring and promotion of women and minorities. According to New York City Council figures, 76 percent of uniformed firefighters are white, 13 percent Latinx, eight percent Black and two percent Asian.   But already under her brief tenure, Kavanagh has named the first African American Emergency Medical Services chief, the first African American female executive officer, and the first Hispanic chief of staff on the executive team. She’s also credited with helping the City Council pass legislation expected to help improve FDNY’s hiring practices.

Kavanagh’s moves couldn’t happen a moment too soon, after all the protests, promises, lawsuits, consent decrees and settlement payouts by New York City.  “Commissioner Kavanagh has my full support. She is promoting a culture of true leadership, accountability, and performance within the FDNY,” Adams said in a statement that needs repeating – often.

Tensions in the FDNY leadership exploded publicly last month, when Kavanagh demoted three recalcitrant senior fire chiefs with no interest in collaborating with her for the good of the FDNY and the city.  On Monday, the trio sued to get their jobs back.  Among those demoted was the controversial Deputy Chief of Operations Michael Gala, who successfully sued last year to win his promotion after making racially charged remarks about the department’s diversity efforts. Kavanagh then called other top FDNY brass on the carpet in a closed-door meeting, where she demanded more out-of-the-box thinking on policy and management, and fewer inquiries about vacations and take-home city vehicles. The command staff responded by requesting in mass a  return to stationhouse duty.

Firefighter union officials floated the ridiculous idea Kavanagh did not have the authority to choose her staff.  James McCarthy, an official with the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, had the gall to suggest commanders were almost immune from removal.  “Generally, in the fire department you don’t get demoted unless you have criminal charges or if there’s department charges,” McCarthy said in a television interview.  “I’m not aware of anybody else that didn’t get charges being demoted.”

Kavanagh has since begun to appoint new commanders, including a retired FDNY 9/11 hero, Joseph Pfeifer, who has rejoined the department as deputy commissioner, Kavanagh’s second in command.  His appointment was aimed at countering criticism that the commissioner’s aides have little or no firefighting experience. Pfeifer has 40 years of FDNY experience.

Meanwhile, there’s signs of progress amid the work to be done.  Just under half of the new probationary firefighter class are people of color.  They identify as 28 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Black, and four percent Asian American. There are seven women in the class, which brings the total number of female Firefighters to 148 – the most in FDNY history.

We can do even better. Mayor Adams and Commissioner Kavanagh can make it so.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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  1. I can’t believe what I’m reading. Absolute garbage. The writer of this piece attacking NY’s bravest who do not care about color or gender, but only to save the lives of their fellow New Yorkers and fellow firefighters.

    In your second paragraph you attack members of the FDNY calling them “Neanderthals, [and] the apotheoses of hate, [who] are lashing out…”. All of these members your attacking have sacrificed more then you could ever know. They are 9/11 hero’s who over the years have sacrificed the comforts of home life away from home and their families to protect the citizens of NYC. Many of these sacrifices come with life altering injuries and also have the psychological scars of burying many of their friends who made the ultimate sacrifice. Your words are disgusting and hateful, not to mention prejudice.

    Your sole concern is the demographics of the Fire Department and not function of it. You bring race and gender into this instead of hiring practices that have been proven to choose the most qualified candidates by merit.


  2. Or is it possible a political hack doesn’t know how to run a 10,000+ member organization ?

  3. Just a few counter points:
    That meeting you mentioned in your article was tape recorded by her staff which is illegal.
    The majority of FDNY are white and live outside city…. But they pay the 1127 taxes for the city and get no vote on city elections. Or what I consider “Taxation without representation.”
    Most of the minorities on job also move out of city as soon as they can afford to.

    First commissioner Pheifer is non uniformed and won’t make fire ground decisions. When your building is burning up in the heights, you want people with experience running the show regardless of race sex or creed.
    FDNY has spent millions to get minorities and women on the job and the ranks have increased exponentially.
    In order to achieve this they:
    Dumbed down the written exam so everyone gets the same score, lowered all physical standards so that women can pass, they add 5 extra points to city residents, they pay for exam fees, give remedial classes, drive them to tests, wake up calls for the exam, allow people to now have FELONY convictions, allow people multiple attempts to pass training school, the list is endless. All to get numbers up!!
    Thank god I don’t live in the city, last thing I want is s felon climbing through my window with a city pension!

    Be careful what you wish for buddy.

  4. Great article. The entitled temper tantrum from these out of city “good boy club” chiefs is heard loud and clear. They’re upset a woman has been allowed to play in what they deem to be their department, even though they refuse to live in the city.

    1. Like I said earlier, I worked 25 years in the New York City fire department, the reason I didn’t live in the city is because you can’t afford to live in New York City on a New York City firefighters salary. Why would I live in a two bedroom apartment with my three kids when I can have a four bedroom house 30 minutes away. Once again, somebody who’s never done the job has a lot to say.

    2. The political agenda to being diversity at any cost, that is unqualified individuals, IMO is just a grab for NYC pensions. The goal is to get minorities into all pension-earning positions. Now do you want a fireman who is supposed to carry you out of a burning building who is only on the job for the pension benefits?

  5. This article is a disgrace to journalism. An opinion piece not based on fact, which is typical of a radical leftists argument. And this is coming from a democrat. Very sad that people will actually read and believe this poorly written article.

  6. This chubby cherub would certainly be an easy target in any work environment. Mercifully for NYC this slob could never endure the physicality of the job training for Fdny, or I imagine, any job that may involve using his hands. Although things seem to have worked out for you Dave, you’re a contributor for *double checks news outlet* Amsterdam news … and the ceo of …. The community service society … do all women and minorities a favor and allow them to take and excel at the jobs they want without clueless whining ivory tower charlatan like yourself.

  7. I worked for the F.D.N.Y for 25 years, I’ve never seen any instances of racism or bigotry. In fact our recruiting division of the FDNY went way far out of their way to try to entice minorities and women in the job. I work with many minorities and women during my career and can honestly say that their race or gender was never a factor. Now, about the author of this article. I would love to know what neighborhood he lives in? I would love to see just how diverse and equitable the The neighborhood is that he lives in. I would venture to guess that the neighborhood he decided to raise his kids around as much wider than any New York City fire house.

  8. Obviously the person who wrote this article Never spent one day And the tranches. To think that a civilian That knows nothing about the day To day Workings Of the most professional And well run Fire Department the world Has The Audacity To even think that she knows more than a 35 year chief officer. The only thing she knows how to do is cut the Throat Of anyone who resist to get ahead, And on a side note if you cannot pass the test you cannot get the job no matter who you are period.

  9. Reading this, it seems that he should look in the mirror and he’ll see a racist and Neanderthal. What a disgusting article. And he’ll get no pushback for his racist views.

  10. Fire doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what color, gender, etc. its victims are.

    When civilians are in need of a firefighter to save their life, they need someone who is capable of doing the job. The fire service is unlike any other profession. Affirmative action may increase diversity elsewhere, but it sends people into the fire service who may not be best suited to it or even interested in doing what it takes to learn and to be committed to the job.

    If a fire victim were to have a say in who came to save them, would they choose someone who could do the job well or a minority who was hired to increase certain quotas who may not be as capable at performing under pressure?

  11. “Last bastion of white male privilege”
    I liked that better the first time I heard it when judge Garafaus threw out the exam… can’t even come up with his own opinion has to copy word for word another puppet who loves to dance for Albany

    Telling the mayor to “put them down” ?
    Sounds and awful lot like inciting violence

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