Chief of Department, Chiefs of Ops and Safety Resign in Protest
Laura Kavanagh, FDNY Fire Commissioner, demoted three staff chiefs citing under-performance and their apparent lack of interest in departmental goals such as reducing civilian fire deaths and improving firefighter pay.
She said, “I’m picking a staff that’s going to lead us forward into the future and accomplish the goals of myself and the mayor — and most importantly a staff that is going to serve what the members need every day.”
NBCNewYork reported, “Laura Kavanagh told Luis Martinez, the chief of staff, to inform Assistant Chiefs Michael Gala, Fred Schaaf, and Joseph Jardin they would be demoted to deputy chiefs in 30 days.”
Kavanagh is the first woman to become Fire Commissioner in a notoriously male dominated department.
FDNY staff chiefs are not in the civil service system and serve in those positions at the will of the Commissioner.
In an act of solidarity (or petulance) Chief of Department John Hodgens, Chief of Fire Operations Joseph Esposito and Chief of Safety Frank Leeb resigned their positions and are requesting reassignment.
Hodgens and Esposito said they were not consulted about the demotions but the Daily News (DN) reports that Kavanagh had been after them for weeks to take action.
DN says Kavanagh was frustrated by the top dogs pestering her about such things as promotions and staff cars. “She challenged them to stop focusing on their own perks and careers and focus on the people of this city…”
ABC7 reports, “With the three assistant chiefs demoted, Kavanagh promoted three others Tuesday: Fire Assistant Chief Anthony Saccavino, Deputy Assistant Chief Brian Cordasco, and Deputy Assistant Chief Thomas Reilly.”
Kavanagh being booed by members at a promotional ceremony on Tuesday received press; the booing just confirms that “boys will be boys” and that the Men’s Club is humming along.
The normally level-headed James McCarthy, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), said, according to NY1.com, “This creates 150 years of firefighting experience and a skillset you can’t replace in a short amount of time so it impacts the safety of the city and those in the fire department.”
While it’s assumed he was expressing the effect of a potential void, it should be said that if FDNY survived the horror of 9/11, a shuffle of staff chiefs is a walk in the park.
McCarthy’s comment was an odd and unforced political error as the UFOA doesn’t even represent the demoted chiefs.
Speaking of politics, Kavanagh has Mayor Eric Adams’ backing. He said, “Commissioner Kavanagh has my full support. She is promoting a culture of true leadership, accountability, and performance within the FDNY. As Commissioner Kavanagh made clear, she and her senior team work for the rank and file and the people of this city. Those who do not agree with that view have chosen to leave the FDNY.”
The FDNY Men’s Club would do well to either remember or learn that Adams has plowed through much greater discontent over his choices than this. And it can be assumed that the City Council, no Men’s Club by any definition, is going to be supportive of the City’s first woman fire commissioner.
As for Hodgens, Esposito and Leeb, the adult action to take when in such a situation is to simply retire rather than to head back to the ranks so you can poison the well and get pats on the back.
At the end of the day, were there no takers for the vacant positions, the staff jobs could be civilianized or Kavanagh could go outside FDNY and conduct a nationwide search; that’s how the rest of the world works.