FDNY: Kavanagh and Diversity
What passes for progress
Laura Kavanagh, the forever “acting” commissioner of FDNY, has chosen Kwame Cooper, a long serving city of Los Angeles fire official, to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the department.
The Diversity Officer “is responsible for creating, implementing, assessing, and gaining support for diversity and inclusion efforts agency wide.”
Anyone championing diversity would have their plate full in New York.
As the table shows, there is a substantial racial mismatch when the department is compared with city demographics.
But the gender picture is much worse.
Only about one percent of FDNY firefighters are women.
Kwame Cooper was with the LAFD for 38 years and says, “I have overseen important initiatives across the country to meet [diversity] challenges head on and improve how firefighters treat one another in the work environment.”
But what about in Los Angeles?
Here’s a look at diversity and inclusion LAFD style:
Whites make up 29% of the population but 49% of the department.
Women make up 3% of the 3,288 department members, roughly the same as it was 28 years ago.
Cooper told the L.A. Sentinel, “The leadership we were able to provide in the department made it better in the areas of recruitment, upward mobility and increasing the diversity within the ranks of the firefighter.”
From 2006 to 2018, Los Angeles paid out $30 million in discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits.
In May of this year Cooper gave a presentation where he “noted continued issues with diversity demographics within the LAFD…”, which may qualify as an understatement.
What stands out about LAFD is the brutal treatment of women; it begins in recruit school and continues once they are assigned to duty stations.
A recent story in LAist gives an idea of the perversity, including:
- And one day, she says, she opened the duffle bag where her bedding was stored (on-duty firefighters sleep at the station), and a putrid smell hit her like a ton of bricks. Raw chicken had been stuffed inside and the spoiled meat was attracting flies. Maggots crawled out of her blankets and sheets.
- She says a male firefighter exposed himself to her, grabbed his genitals, and said, “This is what a real firefighter looks like.”
- The women’s restroom was always filthy, she said, with men leaving unflushed waste for her to find when she arrived for work. Multiple women described similar experiences — sometimes excrement was left in shower stalls or on bathroom floors.
- “You hit this wall of misogyny and sexism that blows apart what you thought this job was. It’s horrendous. The way that they treat people and the things they are allowed to get away with and say are absolutely insane. It has nothing to do with learning the job.”
All this makes Kavanagh’s decision odd, nearly inexplicable, since demonstrated results are lacking at LAFD.
Are there no members of color or women in FDNY capable of serving as Diversity Officer?
Or is an out-of-town resume essential?
If so, did Kavanagh know that the San Francisco Fire Department is 16% female and “in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor found the SFFD was one of the top five departments in the nation when it came to diversity”?
If the women of FDNY thought Kavanagh would be a champion for diversity and inclusion they have reason to be sadly disappointed.