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Fire Commissioner Puts Onus For Racial Harmony on Fire Officers

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Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro used the FDNY’s first in-person officers’ promotion ceremony since the start of the pandemic to call upon the department’s leadership Oct. 20 to promote a culture of inclusion by displaying “the moral courage necessary to stop inexcusable behavior that leaves a damaging mark on the entire FDNY.

“In my last speech as Chief of Department at a promotions ceremony similar to this one, I stated to new officers if you are welcoming prejudice and bad conduct in your firehouse kitchen, you are delivering the message that others are unwelcome,” he told FDNY members and their families at the ceremony.

'Leaders Not Just at Fires'

He continued, “Today, this is more important than ever. You are not simply leaders at the fire scene. You represent the FDNY in public in each action you take. That’s the incredible responsibility that comes with wearing the FDNY uniform.”


 A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $2.25 a month.

The Commissioner's pointed remarks came 12 days after he was summoned before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who blasted the department for not immediately informing the court about racist behavior by nine firefighters and the penalties that it imposed in response.

At the ceremony, the FDNY promoted 112 fire officers, including four Assistant Chiefs, 18 Battalion Chiefs, 30 Captains and 60 Lieutenantsincluding Joann Diaz, the first Latina promoted to that first-line-supervisor rank in the department's 156-year history.

The announcement of her promotion from the stage of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn brought one of the most-enthusiastic audience responses at the event.

Ms. Diaz, 43 and a mother of three, joined the FDNY in 2003 and was joined by Mr. Nigro after the ceremony to take questions from reporters.

'Honored and Excited'

“I felt honored, excited. I heard the screams of my family, my brothers who I have grown to love very much, my babies,” Ms. Diaz said. “It’s an honor. I feel very lucky. It is a proud moment not only for myself, it is a proud moment for my people, it’s a proud moment for my brothers of Engine 79 Ladder 37 Battalion 27 and my friends.”

“What a proud day,” Mr. Nigro said. “You heard the cheers. What does that say about Joann? We’re all very thrilled. I think that women in this department have been proving themselves for many, many, years and now we have a Latina Lieutenant in the department who has been putting out fires for 17 years already, very experienced and very well-liked.”

Just one percent of the department's firefighters are women, well behind cities like San Francisco for which they comprise more than 10 percent of the force.

“I know we are moving slowly when it comes to women in the department, but each and every one that’s worked before Joann, or our current group of women in the department, have all proven this is not just a job for men. This is a job that women can do and do quite well,” Mr. Nigro said.

'Put Onus on Officers'

Fire Capt. Dellon Morgan, president of the Vulcan Society for black FDNY employees, in a phone interview afterward the ceremony supported Mr. Nigro’s placing responsibility for fostering a climate of racial inclusion squarely on the officers.

“He put the onus on the officers and on the individuals,” Mr. Morgan said. “There’s been enough talk, rules and regs written about it [racial inclusion]. Now, it’s time to hold people accountable, especially as officers that are leading the way…It is an internal issue.”

FDNY and city officials had been upbraided by Judge Garaufis, who is overseeing the implementation of a 2014 race-discrimination settlement with the Vulcans after he learned about racist behavior in the department from an Oct. 1 New York Times story that reported nine white Firefighters were "quietly" suspended without pay for sharing racist messages and memes mocking George Floyd’s "dying moments" when he was murdered by a white Minneapolis cop on Memorial Day last year.

After the court hearing, Mr. Nigro conceded to reporters that despite his consistent messaging on the issue of diversity and inclusion, more needed to be done particularly when it came to the department’s officer corps.

Issues Stern Directive

“I think folks have been in uniform a longtime—they sometimes become complacent about this and they have other tasks to keep this city safe and they feel maybe it is not their job,” he said. “But it is certainly all of our job to do the right thing,” he told reporters.

The Commissioner Oct. 18, issued a Department Order describing the “extraordinary session” in front of Mr. Garaufis where he had to listen “to a litany of poor behavior by several individuals, and knowing how it reflected on the entire FDNY was incredibly difficult. “I could not deny the damaging nature of such behavior, nor excuse it.”

He reiterated that the department was committed to promoting a “diverse and inclusive workforce that continues our tradition of bravery and service. If that is not your goal, I suggest you either readjust or move on."

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