New Court Documents Claim FDNY Commissioner Delayed Action on Li-Ion Battery Fire Problem

The New York Daily News is reporting that recently filed court documents in the contentious age discrimination suit brought by several high ranking FDNY chiefs against Commissioner Laura Kavanagh alleges that she was slow to react to the fire problem with e-bike lithium-ion batteries for political reasons. The suit was brought earlier this year by Deputy Chief Michael Gala, Deputy Chief Joseph Jardin, and Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Massucci.

The recently filed documents (an amended complaint along with several affidavits) are not available through Lexis, but will be posted here when they are. According to the Daily News, Chief Jardin and others sought the commissioner’s support to prohibit e-bike batteries in public housing. She reportedly refused to support a ban for fear of “political winds.”

The Daily News quoted from the court documents stating:

  • [Kavanagh] justified her actions based on the concern about the ‘political winds’ because such a ban would negatively impact, among others, low-income delivery persons.
  • Despite Kavanagh’s recent media campaign concerning the dangers of lithium-ion batteries, for years she suppressed and did not support action within the FDNY to press for regulations and bans, and even suppressed a campaign to promote greater awareness of the risks.

The Daily News Quoted FDNY spokeswoman Amanda Farinacci as saying

  • [Kavanagh] has been relentless in sounding the alarm about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries for both the public and FDNY members.
  • She is a national leader on this topic, and any allegation that she has not paid this dangerous issue appropriate attention is preposterous.

The chief’s attorney, Jim Walden, was quoted as saying

  • She can’t whitewash what happened in 2020 and 2021
  • She stood idle for the better part of two years while lithium-ion related fires skyrocketed and the deaths from those fires increased significantly from that period.
  • The department banned them in their own premises, and the chiefs of Fire Prevention and Safety wanted to do more, including support a ban in NYCHA buildings.
  • She still refused to take on the issue because she didn’t want backlash from politicians and those who sympathized with delivery people who use these e-bikes.

More on the story.

UPDATED: July 14, 2023 – Here is the amended complaint, filed July 10, 2023

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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