Two NYC deputy fire commissioners ousted as top-rank turmoil continues in FDNY
The nation’s largest fire department has its own inferno to put out after pressure building in the upper ranks of the FDNY exploded on Tuesday with the terminations of two deputy commissioners.
Gone are Terryl Brown, the department’s chief legal counsel who was also the FDNY’s deputy commissioner for legal affairs, and Frank Dwyer, the department’s longtime deputy commissioner for public information.
Brown and Dwyer are the latest FDNY executives caught up in the simmering feud that began weeks ago when Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh butted heads with disgruntled brass.
“Like every commissioner, Commissioner Kavanagh is putting together a leadership team that will help her deliver on the priorities set out for the FDNY,” the department said in a statement.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, we thank these members for their service to the Fire Department and to the City of New York, and wish them well. New Yorkers can rest assured that the FDNY is as prepared as ever to keep them safe and respond to any and all emergencies.”
Brown, the highest ranking black woman in the agency, was “Switzerland” in the department, and didn’t take a side in the ongoing battle over the chiefs, said a high-ranking FDNY source. She was a finalist for the commissioner position now held by Kavanagh.
“She just gave her legal opinions and that was it,” the source said. “It was quite a shock. She came into Kavanagh’s room and afterwards the chiefs called her into a room they had all gathered and gave her a hug. She was really respected.”
The conflagration in the department’s upper ranks grew so intense it drew in a top aide to Mayor Adams.
Deputy Mayor Philip Banks III, who oversees public safety for Adams, made phone calls to two chiefs, John “Jack” Hodgens, the most senior uniformed official in the agency, and Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito, who are among a group of chiefs who asked for demotions amid the turmoil, said sources.
According to the sources, Banks told Hodgens: “If you love the department, you’ll stay.”
But Banks — who, like Adams, had a long NYPD career — may be in over his head dealing with issues involving Fire Department culture, city government sources said.
One of the problems with this shakeup is that Banks is trying to pull “a lot of NYPD nonsense with the FDNY, which doesn’t work,” one source said.
“In the NYPD, you transfer people to jobs where they do nothing or put them in a position that they’ll hate until they retire,” the source said. “It doesn’t work like that in the FDNY because all of these guys have done the thing they signed on to — they’ve saved dozens of lives.”
“Becoming a staff chief has some pay and perks, but to a firefighter, it’s not the best way to cap a career. Everyone wants to be back in the firehouse.”
Three FDNY brass Kavanagh demoted from assistant chief to deputy chief sued Monday in Brooklyn Supreme Court, demanding to be reinstated.
The three demoted fire officials — Assistant Chiefs Joe Jardin, Michael Gala and Fred Schaaf — claim in court papers that their demotions — as well as those of other top brass Kavanagh also busted in rank — leave the city without enough experienced incident commanders.
A deputy assistant chief, Michael Massucci, is a fourth plaintiff in the lawsuit.
When the demotions go into effect in the coming weeks, the demoted chiefs say, the FDNY will be left with no chiefs who have served as incident commanders on a five-alarm fire.
The demoted chiefs’ lawsuit is against the Fire Department and Kavanagh, the city’s first woman fire commissioner. She made the demotions after bringing her grievances regarding the three chiefs to Hodgens and Esposito — who did not reprimand the trio.
In the aftermath of the Jardin, Gala and Schaaf demotions, multiple high-ranking members of the department gave up their own positions in protest, including Hodgens and Esposito.
Fire Department officials referred queries about the shakeup to the mayor’s office. Spokesmen for Mayor Adams did not return a request for comment.