Demoted FDNY chiefs: Rift can’t be fixed by Kavanagh; mayor needs to step in
Deputy Chief Michael Gala sees “too much hurt, too much embarrassment and too much humiliation" for the commissioner to lead peacemaking
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK —Three chiefs at the center of the ongoing turmoil at the FDNY spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday, calling on the mayor to step in and heal the rift between Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and the department’s top brass.
Speaking to NBC New York’s I Team, recently demoted FDNY Chiefs Joseph Jardin and Michael Gala as well as Assistant Chief Michael Massucci, who has asked to be demoted in solidarity, said peace at the upper ranks will only come if Mayor Eric Adams steps in and makes wholesale changes.
” I don’t see a way forward,” Jardin said. “That is certainly within the Mayor’s prerogative to try to fix that.”
Gala said he doesn’t see a way Kavanagh herself can fix a problem she created.
“There is too much pain, too much hurt, too much embarrassment and too much humiliation,” he said.
The unrest in the department’s upper ranks began in February after The News broke a story about how several top uniformed FDNY officials stepped down to protest Kavanagh demoting Gala, Jardin and Fred Schaaf, all assistant chiefs, to deputy chiefs.
FDNY sources said Kavanagh was opposed to the demoted chiefs aggressive leadership styles and described them as “bad apples” although none of them had any substantiated complaints with the department.
Kavanagh also complained that her staff chiefs hadn’t brought her any new ideas about how to improve the department.
She was said to have wanted “out-of-the-box thinking” from the chiefs, but was peppered with requests about overtime and department-issued take-home cars, according to a recording of the gathering shared with The News.
In response, seven other staff chiefs, including Massucci, FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens and Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito, have asked to be demoted to deputy chief and moved back into the field.
So far, ten staff chiefs have either been demoted by Kavanagh or had asked to be lowered in rank, sources with knowledge of the turmoil said.
There are 23 staff chiefs in the entire FDNY, including several on medical leave. Between those who have been demoted and those out on medical leave, there are only seven active staff chiefs citywide, sources said.
Kavanagh hasn’t signed off on any of the demotion requests and has asked everyone to stay on as she fine tunes her leadership team.
The demoted chiefs are currently suing the department, accusing Kavanagh of ageism. At 40, Kavanagh, the city’s first woman fire commissioner, is also one of the city’s youngest commissioners.
Gala, who had successfully sued the department previously claiming that his career was stalled because he wrote harshly critical letters in the Chief-Leader Newspaper years ago about the FDNY’s efforts to hire more Black firefighters, told NBC he had no idea why he was demoted to deputy chief.
“I have no idea (why). Nobody ever explained anything to me,” Gala said, refuting allegations that he and the demoted chiefs had issues taking orders from a woman. “We don’t have problems working with females. We’ve never had.”
The ongoing strife has had ripple effects outside of FDNY headquarters, Massucci said.
“The mental anguish its caused me and my family. It’s devastating,” the chief said, adding that morale in the fire houses was “very low.”
“This has absolutely nothing to do with the fire commissioner being female,” he said. “This has to do with the fire commissioner’s treatment of her executive staff.”
The FDNY will not comment on the ongoing lawsuit, telling NBC that Kavanagh, like many fire commissioners before her, is building her executive team and making changes where she sees fit.
Mayor Adams, who could not be immediately reached Wednesday, has given his wholesale support behind Kavanagh’s decisions to shake up the FDNY’s highest ranks.
“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 said in a statement. “She has my full support, as she has since the day she stepped in to lead New York’s Bravest.”
Attorney Jim Walden, who is representing the chiefs in their ageism lawsuit, said Adams needs to fix the ongoing strife at FDNY headquarters.
“It is insanity for the Mayor to sit by and let these heroes have their careers wrecked while he props up an unqualified bully of a Commissioner — especially one that is actually hurting diversity at FDNY in significant way,” he said.
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