I-Team: Demoted FDNY Chiefs Call on Mayor Adams to Step In Amid Fire Department Mutiny

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Speaking publicly for the first time since filing an age discrimination suit against FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, three demoted fire chiefs are now calling on Mayor Eric Adams to intervene in the weeks-long rift between some of the department’s highest-ranking leaders and their boss.

In an exclusive interview with the NBC New York I-Team, Chief Michael Gala, Chief Michael Massucci, and Chief Joseph Jardin, three men demoted by Kavanagh, said they believe the commissioner has lost the department’s trust.

“I believe there is too much pain, too much hurt, too much embarrassment, too much humiliation, and for no reason,“ said Gala.

Ten of the FDNY's highest ranking chiefs have now asked to voluntarily give back their titles. I-Team's Chris Glorioso sits down with three of the chiefs at the center of the rebellion.

“Morale is very low,” said Massucci. “It’s low in the fire houses, I know that for a fact from speaking with firefighters.”

In February, Kavanagh took away Gala’s and Jardin’s prestigious "staff chief" titles. Though Massucci kept his staff chief designation, his role was significantly reduced.

Since the staffing shake-up, high ranking sources in the department have confirmed a total of 10 staff chiefs have asked to voluntarily give up their titles in solidarity, including Chief John Hodgens, the highest ranking uniformed member of the FDNY and Chief John Esposito, who heads FDNY Operations. But Kavanagh has yet to approve their requests for demotions.

“You’ve got to remember, the amount of staff chiefs that have requested demotions is for the pure fact that they don’t believe they can work with the Fire Commissioner,” Massucci said.

Given the apparent stalemate – with so many high ranking chiefs in positions they don’t want - the three demoted chiefs are now calling on Mayor Adams to step in.

“The department can heal itself,“ said Jardin, “With this commissioner that would be truly challenging. I don’t see a way forward. That is certainly within the Mayor’s prerogative to try to fix that.”

But Adams doesn’t appear to believe the FDNY needs fixing. In a statement this week to the I-Team, he doubled down on his support for Kavanagh, the first female commissioner in the department’s history.

“Since day one, Fire Commissioner Kavanagh has promoted a culture of true leadership, accountability, and performance within the FDNY and she has spearheaded efforts to diversify the Department to a level never seen before,” Adams wrote. “She has my full support, as she has since the day she stepped in to lead New York’s Bravest.”

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, supporters of Kavanagh suggested the rebellion among so many male fire chiefs against a female boss, is evidence of entrenched misogyny. But the demoted chiefs bristled at that notion, pointing out that their labor union, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association backed an African American woman, Terryl Brown, to become the fire commissioner. Brown was the FDNY’s former Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs.

“The Department would have been truly well served with Terryl as the fire commissioner,” Jardin said.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with the fire commissioner being female,” said Massucci. “This has to do with the fire commissioner’s treatment of her executive staff.”

A group of ex-fire chiefs are out today with a lawsuit accusing the FDNY's commissioner of age discrimination. Chris Glorioso reports.

After Kavanagh became commissioner, she ousted Brown for reasons that have not been made clear. Brown did not immediately respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.

Earlier this month, Gala, Jardin, and Massucci filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Kavanagh, accusing her of systematically firing or demoting senior employees, including Brown, in an effort to fill her inner circle with younger, less experienced people. The FDNY has not responded to the suit, citing the pending nature of the litigation, but Amanda Farinacci, an FDNY spokesperson, said Kavanagh‘s personnel decisions come only out of an effort to build her own management team.

“As with all commissioners before her, she is building her own team and making changes as she sees fit,” Farinacci said. “She will continue to lead the department and make decisions – staffing and otherwise – that reflect the best interest of the department, and keep the public safe.”

Jim Walden, the attorney who represents the demoted chiefs, said he fears eroding morale within the FDNY could make the public less safe.

“Commissioner Kavanagh is just much more comfortable surrounding herself with younger ‘yes-people’ and wants to get rid of people who have experience,” Walden said. “In a fire safety organization that is just a ticking time bomb.”

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