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The FDNY’s two top uniformed officials, Chief of Department John Hodgens and Chief of Fire Operations Joseph Esposito, have resigned their positions following the demotions late last week of three chiefs by FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.
Hodgens’ and Esposito’s resignations, which they conveyed in letters Sunday, signaled their displeasure with Kavanagh’s lack of consultation with them prior to the demotions of Assistant Chiefs Fred Schaaf, Michael Gala and Joseph Jardin, the second time since the start of the year the trio were downgraded to positions “that they were overqualified for,” the president of the Uniformed Fire Officer Association, James McCarthy, said Monday.
The union leader said he believes that Kavanagh’s intentions in demoting them earlier this year was to secure their resignations. When that failed, she again demoted them, spurring, in turn, Esposito’s and Hodgens’ reactions.
“It’s the lack of trust, inclusiveness, communication and transparency coming from the department to the uniformed personnel,” that led to the resignations, McCarthy said.
The demotion of the three assistant chiefs wasn’t the first time Hodgens and Esposito were not consulted, McCarthy said, and last week's downgrades were “the last straw in a longer process."
Hodgens, the highest-ranking uniformed official, is the FDNY’s second-in-command and has joined Kavanagh at nearly every recent major public event at which the department was present, including graduations, funerals and press conferences following high-profile fires. Esposito is the department’s second-highest-ranking uniformed official.
The shakeup comes just months after Mayor Eric Adams elevated Kavanagh to become the FDNY’s first female commissioner, following her interim role in the position for more than six months.
The FDNY declined to comment on the leadership shuffle but, along with the UFOA, said that Hodges and Esposito remain in their current positions since their resignation letters requested that they leave the department “as soon as possible” but not immediately.
A longtime active member of the FDNY with knowledge of the situation said that two chiefs have already declined an offer to fill Hodges’ and Esposito’s positions. A majority of the remaining chiefs, the FDNY member said, would rather take a demotion than fill those roles. “As a leader Kavanagh made a bad decision and she did not make it properly,” the FDNY member said.
‘They were low-hanging fruit’
It’s unclear why Kavanagh, who could not be reached for comment, decided to demote the three assistant chiefs, although McCarthy speculated that it was because they weren’t sufficiently supportive of the commissioner.
"These are people that didn’t agree with some of the decisions coming out of the commissioner's office and didn’t support this commissioner for the position when she was deputy commissioner,” McCarthy said. “They were low-hanging fruit and now there's an opportunity to pick their replacements."
The FDNY member agreed that Kavanagh most likely demoted the three chiefs because of their lack of support, but was mystified as to why the commissioner singled out the three since “there were a lot of people who didn’t want her in that position.”
The member speculates that Kavanagh had possibly targeted Gala and Jardin because of their past controversies surrounding discrimination
Gala successfully sued the FDNY in 2021 after alleging that he was denied promotions because of candid and outspoken letters to the editor he had published in The Chief from 2007 and 2008, which criticized the FDNY’s diversity initiatives. Prior to his demotion Friday, Gala had been working as chief quartermaster — the position he was demoted to in the New Year — tasked with overseeing firefighters’ protective equipment. That FDNY division had formerly been run by lower ranking fire officers and it typically is maintained and operated by an outside vendor.
The longtime FDNY member also noted that Jardin had “wreaked havoc” on the FDNY’s fire prevention division when he was chief of that division, and had been viewed by many of his subordinates as a racist. An official in the FNDY’s fire prevention unit confirmed that firefighters of color in that unit vehemently disliked Jardin and viewed him as a racist who would pass up non-white and female employees for promotions.
Kavanagh has long said that one of her main goals as commissioner of the FDNY is to increase the diversity within its ranks and she has been under pressure from both the mayor and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams to diversify the department's uniformed ranks, including its officer corps. Last fall the mayor, alongside Kavanagh and the Council speaker, signed a package of bills in the hopes of drawing more women and people of color into the FDNY and making it a more comfortable and discrimination-free workplace.
It’s unclear if these pressures pushed Kavanagh to exile Gala and Jardin. According to the FDNY member, many other chiefs are also frustrated with Kavanagh regarding the demotions of the three assistant chiefs as well as her apparent lack of communication.
“This is a tremendous loss for the department and for New York City,” McCarthy said. "It’s a massive number of years and experience that the department is losing and that impacts the safety of the citizens and visitors of New York City because these are the people that respond to huge emergencies."
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Most Unqualified Fire Comm. ever. Another minus of many for Mayor Addams.
Wednesday, February 8 Report this