More Political Squabbles in FDNY

An FDNY promotional ceremony last Thursday has turned into a politically oriented disciplinary spectacle after attendees booed New York Attorney General Letitia James and chanted “Trump”. Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh has ordered an investigation into the incident and apparently want the offenders to be “educated why their behavior is unacceptable.”

The facts underlying the debacle, as well as some of the legal issues sure to arise, are as follows:

  • AG James successfully brought a civil fraud suit against former President Trump for overvaluing his real estate holdings. Despite the fact none of the lenders lost any money, nor did any seek compensation, a judge awarded New York an unprecedented $454 million judgment against Trump.
  • Trump is appealing the judgment and many of his supporters believe (1) the lawsuit was politically motivated by AG James, a democrat; and (2) the judge was politically biased against Trump.
  • AG James was invited to speak at the promotional ceremony because her friend, Rev. Pamela Holmes, was being sworn in as a Chaplin.
  • The promotional ceremony was attended by on-duty, off-duty, and retired members of FDNY, as well as friends and family members of those being promoted.
  • FDNY Chief of Department John Hodges has directed that members involved in the booing and chanting should turn themselves in to face reeducation before the department’s Bureau of Investigation and Trials (BITS) has to “hunt them down.”
  • Factual questions exist about who exactly booed and chanted, and how many boos and/or chats would be enough to get one into hot-water discipline-wise with BITS.
  • Legal questions exist about whether the politically oriented boos and chants are protected speech given the pubic nature of the event; whether being on-duty versus off-duty or in uniform or out-of-uniform will matter; and whether public statements from the city officials that firefighters need to undergo some sort of re-education might undermine any legitimate disciplinary avenues the department might otherwise have had.

Unfortunately, more drama from a department that has a lot more important things to concern itself with. Here is more from the NY Post. Here is a video of AG James’s speech.

Update: March 16, 2024: FDNY Reverses Course

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.

Check Also

Georgia Federal Court Denies Request to Remand Whistleblower Case

The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia has refused to remand a former division chief’s whistleblower lawsuit back to state court. EMS Division Chief Summer Patterson filed suit against Bryan County Fire & Emergency Services and Fire Chief Freddy Howell claiming she was retaliated against and forced to resign after voicing her objection to the chief’s disciplinary decision making.

NY Chief Challenges Removal

The fire chief of the Wading River Fire District who was removed by the district’s Board of Fire Commissioners last November, has filed suit alleging a violation of his statutory and constitutional due process rights. Fire Chief Kevin Berg was initially suspended and then removed as fire chief, all without notice of the reason for these actions, or an opportunity to respond.