A sixth FDNY staff chief has requested to be demoted and put back in the field as high-ranking firefighters continue to fume over a leaked audio recording of a closed-door meeting with Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, the Daily News has learned.
Staff chiefs at the Feb. 3 meeting, which included Chief of Department John “Jack” Hodgens, the most senior uniformed official in the FDNY, and Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito, were outraged after learning that a recording of the gathering was shared with The News.
Kavanagh, the city’s first woman fire commissioner, is heard on the recording telling chiefs she wanted more “innovative, outside the box thinking.” Instead, over the course of 40 minutes, the chiefs assailed her with questions about their personal cars, vacation carryovers and what she meant when she said there is no “bullying” of subordinates allowed.
“Is it fair to say that despite the point I made, the majority of the questions here today were about pay and vacation and cars?” Kavanagh asked the chiefs, according to the recording.
In a letter sent to Kavanagh on Thursday, Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Massucci asked to be booted back to deputy chief. Massucci complained that he was transferred from his post as chief of uniformed personnel and sent to the bureau of operations without cause.
“I have never had any disciplinary issues or complaints filed against me and have been well respected by my subordinates and superiors throughout my career,” Massucci wrote, adding that the transfer was made “without any reasonable explanation, except to state that you are taking the bureau of personnel in a different direction.”
“My reassignment to the Bureau of Operations and placing me in the toolroom in the Bureau of Tech Services was an attempt to humiliate and disgrace me amongst my superiors, subordinates, coworkers and friends. Stating later that my skillsets were being better utilized in my new position was yet another attempt to further disgrace me,” Massucci wrote. “The lack of transparency and the lack of truthfulness, not only with me but with the entire Uniformed Executive Staff, has brought me to this decision. I can no longer function as a Deputy Assistant Chief under your administration.”
Massucci joins Hodgens, Esposito and FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Frank Leeb who have requested in writing to be demoted to deputy chief and moved out of the department’s MetroTech headquarters in downtown Brooklyn. Two other chiefs have made the same request, but not in writing, sources said.
Kavanagh demoted Assistant Chiefs Fred Schaaf, Michael Gala and Joseph Jardin to deputy chief earlier this month after Hodgens would not perform the deed, sources said. The three chiefs were considered “bad apples” and refused to act on Kavanagh’s directives, a source in the fire commissioner’s camp said.
Schaaf was the Queens borough commander when allegations of racism were made in a firehouse. Sources said he resisted transferring and disciplining some firefighters in the aftermath.
Jardin was chief of fire prevention where he objected to allowing buildings to self-certify their fire safety systems, sources said. But he also was the subject of a series of complaints with the city’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity over his tough-guy management style. The Fire Prevention Division has the largest black workforce in the FDNY.
Gala, a disciple of former Chief of Department James Leonard who clashed with Kavanagh, sued over allegations he was passed over for promotion for criticizing a diversity push in the FDNY. Gala was considered a divisive element in the department, one source said.
“She [Kavanagh] can move people in the department to better the safety of the department and all New Yorkers,” a source with knowledge of the commissioner’s thinking told The News.
Now, the chiefs are trying to determine whether recording the closed-door meeting violated department policy, a high-ranking FDNY source with knowledge of the drama said.
“In the past, firefighters would get in trouble if they videotaped or audiotaped anything happening at the firehouse, so the same should apply here,” the source said.
“At a department meeting of any kind, you are free to speak, exchange ideas and discuss them,” the source said. “If you’re going to be taped outside the minutes of the meeting then that stifles the debate and the conversation.”
In past FDNY administrations, demotions, particularly at the higher ranks, almost never occurred, one FDNY source said.
“It just didn’t happen,” the source said. “If they weren’t doing their job, they just wouldn’t get promoted any more. If there was a real issue, the commissioner would just ask them to retire.
“Now everyone is up for grabs,” the source said.
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