Demoted FDNY chiefs sue ‘political operative’ fire commissioner
FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh accused of deriding four demoted assistant fire chiefs as 'racists, discriminatory, and bad apples'
A group of assistant New York City Fire Department (FDNY) chiefs are accusing New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ fire commissioner of acting as a "political operative" at the expense of public safety in demoting them and others in the top ranks allegedly in part over allegations of racism for not promoting "non-White" or female employees.
A 36-page lawsuit filed in Brooklyn’s Kings County Supreme Court Monday lists FDNY Assistant Chief of Fire Prevention Joe Jardin, Assistant Chief of Operations Michael Gala, Assistant Chief of Operations Fred Schaaf and Chief of Uniformed Personnel Michael Massucci as plaintiffs.
The quartet each have served more than three decades with the New York City Fire Department, have received awards for their service and bravery and Gala’s experience namely includes responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They allege that Laura Kavanagh, the first woman to serve as commissioner of the FDNY, "has taken a series of actions in the period between November 2022 and February 2023, which has resulted in the demotion (actual or constructive) or reassignment of at least ten Staff Chiefs, including the Chief of Department."
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Once her "ill-conceived demotions" go into effect between March 4 to 6, the lawsuit claims there will be no staff chiefs who have ever served as incident commanders on a 5-alarm fire, and there are only four staff chiefs with sufficient rank, in the absence of more senior chiefs, to cover 4-alarm fires across the entire city, though it is unclear if they served as incident commanders for a 4-alarm fire before.
"This is a terrifying prospect for public safety. Having such a small group of Incident Commanders available to respond to serious fires is unworkable and would require prompt promotion of others with no experience as Incident Commander in such grave crisis situations," the lawsuit notes.
Jardin, Gala, Schaaf and Massucci allege in the litigation that they were each unlawfully retaliated against for "voicing disagreement" with Kavanagh over safety concerns, claiming the fire commissioner and others at the FDNY have "called them racists, discriminatory, and ‘bad apples.’"
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The filing cites a Feb. 6 N.Y. Daily News article quoting anonymous sources claiming Schaaf "resisted transferring and disciplining some firefighters" when "allegations of racism" were made in a Queens firehouse, Jardin was the subject of "a series of complaints with the city’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity" for his "tough-guy management style," and Gala was considered a "divisive element in the department." On Feb. 6, the suit also notes how the chief leader quoted a longtime FDNY member who alleged that Jardin had "wreaked havoc" on the FDNY’s fire prevention division and was seen as a "racist who would pass up non-white and female employees for promotions."
"As to the merits, Respondent Kavanagh’s brief tenure as FDNY Commissioner has shown what happens when a political operative is put in charge of a public-safety agency as vital as the FDNY," the lawsuit says. "Through the demotions and reassignments, as well as through other decisions antithetical to public safety, Respondent Kavanagh has abused the office of Fire Commissioner, violated the oath of office, put the public and members of the FDNY at risk, and retaliated against senior staff for raising safety concerns about leadership decisions."
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"Prior to joining the FDNY in 2014, Respondent Kavanagh worked primarily as a political operative on political campaigns and in local government, never a day as a firefighter," the lawsuit says. "Respondent Kavanagh has no experience fighting fires and worked only on the civilian side of the FDNY before ascending to Commissioner."
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If the court does not intervene, the demotions will allegedly present "an abundantly clear risk to public safety."
"People will die, people will be injured, and property will be destroyed," the filing says.
"Kavanagh’s very recent actions to gut the ranks of the Staff Chiefs based on their disagreements with her over matters of public safety, to humiliate them through reassignments to places like the FDNY Quartermaster and Toolroom, and to then disparage them publicly through a campaign of disinformation and slander, background on Respondent Kavanagh’s mismanagement and malfeasance serves as important context."
Fox News Digital reached out to the FDNY and the New York City Law Department for comment.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was updated to clarify the nature of the lawsuit's allegations.