Two more staff chiefs at FDNY headquarters have asked to be demoted and put back in the field as the shakeup in the department continues, the Daily News has learned.
The two new requests from Assistant Chief Kevin Brennan and Deputy Assistant Chief Charles “Chuck” Downey, the chief of the FDNY Fire Academy, landed on FDNY Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh’s desk this week as the department went ahead with three demotions that prompted several top chiefs to ask for a drop in rank, two sources with knowledge of the drama said.
It brings the number of demoted or dissatisfied chiefs looking for a way out of headquarters to about 10, although the number couldn’t be officially confirmed. There are only 23 staff chiefs in the entire FDNY, sources said.
“At this point it’s easier to count the number of people who didn’t [ask for demotions] instead of the people who have,” one source said.
The demotion requests are a moot point, however, at least in the short term. Kavanagh hasn’t signed off on any of the requests. She’s asked the chiefs to hang on for three more months while she “rights the ship” and they have agreed, sources said.
The turmoil in the department’s upper ranks came into full view last month after The News broke a story about how two top uniformed FDNY officials stepped down to protest Kavanagh demoting three other chiefs.
Assistant Chiefs Michael Gala, Joseph Jardin and Fred Schaaf have been demoted and detailed back to FDNY headquarters, but their new roles are not clear, according to a department source with knowledge of the situation.
The undercurrent of distrust came to a head on Feb. 3, when Kavanagh demoted Gala, Jardin and Schaaf, and held a meeting with the remaining staff chiefs, complaining that they hadn’t brought her any new ideas.
She wanted “out-of-the-box thinking,” but was peppered with requests about overtime and department-issued take-home cars, according to a recording of the gathering shared with The News.
“Folks say we have to to have our car with us at all times,” one chief asked at the meeting. “But if I have to go into Nassau for something personal, now I have to have my car with me. How do I balance that?”
Kavanagh wasn’t pleased that her requests were landing on deaf ears.
“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.
After hearing that Gala, Jardin and Schaaf were demoted, several other chiefs, including Chief of Department John Hodgens, the FDNY’s most senior uniformed official, Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito and Chiefs Michael Massucci and Frank Leeb all requested to be demoted and put back in the field in solidarity.
At about the same time, two other chiefs made the same request, but not in writing, sources said.
The chiefs filed a lawsuit against Kavanagh and the city claiming the demotions have left the city’s firefighting forces with an “unimaginable level of unpreparedness” — including leaving the department without anyone who has ever led the scene at a five-alarm fire.
A Brooklyn federal judge denied the chiefs request for a temporary restraining order that would bar the demotions from proceeding.
“Our leadership team has centuries of combined experience within the FDNY and the department’s chiefs are fully committed to keeping our members and the city safe,” an FDNY spokeswoman said Thursday. “To be clear, no chief position is vacant or unoccupied. New Yorkers can rest assured that, under Commissioner Kavanagh’s leadership, the FDNY remains fully prepared to keep New Yorkers safe and respond to all emergencies.”