After the Vulcan Society of black firefighters raised concerns that some Fire Department chiefs advocated using fire hoses against protesters if they were interfering with fire operations, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called upon the FDNY to state plainly that this was inappropriate and violated agency policy.
The Daily News reported Aug. 1 that Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro issued a department-wide memo a day earlier stating, "The FDNY expressly prohibits the use of water streams from hoselines, deck guns or any other type of water application device for crowd control or [dispersal] purposes." It reaffirmed a June 16 notice that the exceptions would involve "protection against sabotage (i.e. Molotov cocktail..."
In a July 21 letter to Mr. Nigro, Mr. Adams said that using the high-capacity hoses in that manner was "contrary to FDNY's written policy with regard to protesters."
'Make It Clear'
"I am writing to ask that you take significant steps to ensure that every FDNY firefighter is clear on the policy in place," the former NYPD Captain wrote. "Our city and our nation are going through significant changes in how we live and as to what we expect from the civil servants who work on behalf of the people."
For several days during the nationwide protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death at the knee of a Minneapolis cop May 25, New York City experienced looting amid generally peaceful protests.
Khalid Baylor, president of the Vulcan Society, said during a phone interview prior to last week's memo that some of his members heard from both firefighters and fire officers who "wanted to use high-caliber streams of water on protesters," contrary to what is "taught by the department."
"Hose lines are to be used to protect life and property, and any deviation from that policy would be of concern to our members," he said. "We are anticipating a new department-issued document that will provide clear direction as to when and how a high-caliber water stream can be used."
'Wait for Police Response'
An FDNY spokesman said in response to Mr. Baylor's request, "We encourage members to heighten their situational awareness and wait for a police response or for street conditions to calm down," he said.
The FDNY confirmed that during the street protests, several pieces of apparatus were damaged by bricks and bottles, "but no personnel were injured."
In his letter to Mr. Nigro, Mr. Adams said that he had "read the written policy stating that high-capacity fire hoses are not to be used on people," but the report of "conflicting orders at stationhouses" required that the department "remind firefighters that the use of high-capacity hoses on people will result in severe reprimand, and possible termination."
The Brooklyn Borough President requested that the department maintain a record "of the name of every firefighter who has been directly informed of the policy and the consequences of non-compliance," and that a report be provided "to the City Council, Public Advocate, City Comptroller, and all Borough Presidents, outlining challenges surrounding training on this issue."
A spokesman for Mr. Adams said the Borough President, who is expected to run for Mayor, had not received a response from Mr. Nigro.
Racist Symbol in '60s
In 1963, televised images of fire hoses and police dogs being used against civil-rights marchers in Birmingham, Alabama, brought national scrutiny to racism and resistance to ending segregation and unequal treatment of blacks in the Deep South.
According to Mr. Baylor, the last use of FDNY water hoses to disperse a crowd was in Staten Island in 2011. In that incident, the Staten Island Advance reported a "crowd of angry teenagers brandishing weapons in front of a house in Mariners Point forced FDNY officers to shoot the crowd with water cannons to protect two NYPD officers who were attempting to make arrests."