FIRST-EVER FEMALE COMMISSIONER TAKES LEAD OF THE NYC FIRE DEPARTMENT

Mayor Eric Adams recently named Laura Kavanagh as the FDNY commissioner, elevating a woman to the head of the fire department for the first time in its 157-year history.  Kavanagh now leads the nation’s largest fire department – with roughly 17 thousand employees and a 2 billion dollar budget.  She takes the helm at a pivotal and somewhat uncertain time for the city, amid ongoing concerns about public safety and looming budget troubles.  Tonight, Commissioner Kavanagh joins MetroFocus to discuss her efforts to diversify the FDNY, and about her agenda for modernizing the agency technologically.

Aired on November 30, 2022

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

LAURA KAVANAGH MADE HISTORY LAST MONTH BECOMING THE FIRST FEMALE FIRE COMMISSIONER IN NEW YORK CITY HISTORY.

KAVANAGH GOT THE APPOINTMENT AFTER SERVING AS THE ACTING COMMISSIONER AND DOING SUCH A GOOD JOB THAT MAYOR ERIC ADAMS DECIDED TO MAKE IT PERMANENT.

SHE NOW LEADS THE NATION'S LARGEST FIRE DEPARTMENT, ONE WITH ROUGHLY 17,000 EMPLOYEES BUT ONLY 150 FEMALE FIREFIGHTERS.

AT AGE 40, SHE'S ONE OF THE YOUNGEST COMMISSIONERS IN HISTORY.

THE APPOINTMENT IS MORE HISTORIC IS THAT IT MARKS THE WOMEN LEAD THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND NYPD.

THERE ARE CONCERNS ABOUT PUBLIC SAFETY AND BUDGET TROUBLES.

WE ARE PLEASING THAT JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT HER AGENDA AND FOR ITS ROLE IN CITY LIFE MOVING FORWARD IS THE CITY'S NEW FIRE DEPARTMENT COMMISSIONER, LAURA KAVANAGH.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

I APPRECIATE IT.

I WANT TO GET TO SOME OF THE THINGS YOU WANT TO GET DONE FOR THE FDNY.

LET ME START AT THE BEGINNING.

YOU BEGAN WORKING AT THE FDNY IN 2014.

YOU HAD A HISTORY OF SIGNIFICANT MANAGEMENT ROLES IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR.

MY QUESTION IS THIS.

AS WITH -- I SHOULD NOTE, AS WITH OTHER FIRE COMMISSIONERS, YOU DIDN'T HAVE FIREFIGHTING EXPERIENCE.

AS I SAID, THAT'S NOT THAT UNUSUAL.

WHAT WAS IT THAT DREW YOU TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT IN THE FIRST PLACE?

YEAH.

I THINK THE BRAND DREW ME.

I THINK EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT THE FDNY, ABOUT THEIR STORIED HISTORY, THEIR BRAVERY.

CERTAINLY, WORKING FOR SUCH A HISTORIC ORGANIZATION WAS REALLY I ALSO -- I LIKE A CHALLENGE.

I LIKE TO MAKE GREAT THINGS BETTER.

I LOVE THE CITY.

I THINK THE FDNY IS WOVEN INTO THE DNA OF NEW YORK CITY.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS COMING TOGETHER, I DIDN'T EXPECT TO GO TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT.

WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY PRESENTED ITSELF, I THINK DEEP DOWN IN MY GUT I JUST KNEW, GREAT ORGANIZATION, GREAT CITY, WEALTH OF OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES THAT THE DEPARTMENT FACED.

I KNEW IT WAS RIGHT.

I FOLLOWED MY GUT.

CLEARLY, THAT HAS WORKED OUT BETTER THAN I COULD HAVE IMAGINED.

I WAS STRUCK BY YOUR LOVE OF THE CITY.

I WAS STRUCK BY THE NUMBER OF YEARS, YOU LIVED IN ALL FIVE BUREAUS.

I HAVE.

YOU START WORKING FOR THE FDNY.

IN THE BEGINNING, DID YOU EVER ENVISION THAT YOU WOULD BE AT ONE POINT IN TIME THE COMMISSIONER OF THE FDNY?

I COULD NOT HAVE IMAGINED THAT IN A MILLION YEARS.

I COULDN'T HAVE.

I KNOW PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO SAY -- MAYBE I WOULD LOVE TO SAY THIS WAS A GRAND PLAN, BUT IT WAS NOT.

I FEEL LUCKY THAT LIFE HAS WORKED OUT THIS WAY.

LIFE CAN BE INTERESTING AND CHANGE AND WONDERFUL.

IT'S BEEN ALL THOSE THINGS FOR ME.

IT HAS.

AS I SAID IN THE BEGINNING BEFORE WE STARTED ROLLING HERE, CONGRATULATIONS ON A MARVELLOUS ACCOMPLISHMENT.

YOU ARE EMBARKING ON AN IMPORTANT ADVENTURE, IF YOU WILL.

I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT SOME OF THE THIM THINGS YOU WANT TO GET ONE OF THE THINGS IS THE NOTION OF TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION.

HOW DID YOU ENVISION IT HELPING THE FDNY DO ITS JOB BETTER?

SURE.

THIS IS A SUBJECT I LOVE TO TALK ABOUT.

I DON'T THINK PEOPLE ASSOCIATE TECHNOLOGY WITH FIREFIGHTING, EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE.

REALLY, IN A MODERN WORLD, WHAT TECHNOLOGY OFFERS US IS INFORMATION.

INFORMATION LEADS TO GREATER SAFETY.

BOTH FOR OUR MEMBERS AND FOR THE PUBLIC.

A LOT OF THE TECHNOLOGY THAT WE ARE FOCUSED ON IS ALL ABOUT WHAT SORTS OF INFORMATION CAN WE GET TO FIRST RESPONDERS AHEAD OF A JOB SO THEY CAN KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING INTO?

WHAT SORT OF INFORMATION CAN WE PROVIDE THE CITIZENS THAT MIGHT PREVENT AN EMERGENCY OR MIGHT IN THE MIDST OF AN EMERGENCY MAKE THEM BETTER PREPARED?

THAT'S WHERE WE ARE FOCUSED AND WHAT I WOULD SAY REALLY MY OPERATING MODEL IS IS ALL ABOUT BRINGING MEMBERS IN THE FIELD TOGETHER WITH OUR TECHNOLOGISTS.

I THINK THIS HAS TO BE A JOINT EFFORT.

OTHERWISE, YOU DO HEAR A LOT OF PROJECTS IN GOVERNMENT, IN TECHNOLOGY, THAT DON'T NECESSARILY GO ANYWHERE.

I THINK YOU REALLY NEED TO GET THE END USER INVOLVED.

THAT'S BEEN MY OPERATING MODEL.

THAT'S WORKED OUT FOR US TO HAVE THE GRASS-ROOTS GUIDE WHAT WE COME UP WITH AT HEADQUARTERS.

AS YOU MENTIONED, GETTING BUY-IN FROM THE END USERS, THE FIREFIGHTERS AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES FOLKS, IS ESSENTIAL TO THIS.

THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM OF THE THEM.

IN ALL PROFESSIONS, PEOPLE ARE USED TO THE WAY THEY DO BUSINESS.

THEN WHEN SOMEBODY NEWCOMES IN, THEY SAY I HAVE A BETTER IDEA, ARE YOU FINDING OBSTACLES TO GETTING THAT BUY-IN?

CHANGE IS ALL SOMETHING THAT ANY ORGANIZATION FACES AS SOMEWHAT DIFFICULT.

IF SOMETHING IS WORKING, PEOPLE DON'T ALWAYS SEEK TO CHANGE IT.

WHAT I WOULD SAY IN DEFENSE OF OUR MEMBERS, I THINK WHAT OFTEN IS NOT UNDERSTOOD IS THAT THE WAY WE USE TECHNOLOGY IS SO DIFFERENT THAN THE WAY YOU AND I MIGHT USE OUR iPHONE.

THEY ARE WORKING AT 2:00 A.M., THEY MIGHT BE UNDERGROUND, THEY MIGHT BE 100 STORIES UP.

THERE MIGHT BE AN EMERGENCY HAPPENING IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT THAT MEANS THE TECHNOLOGY HAS TO WORK AND WORK 100% OF THE TIME IN ALL THESE DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS, SMOKE, HEAT, SO ON AND SO FORTH.

I THINK REALLY FOR US, IT'S BEEN -- THAT IS WHY HAVING THE END USER INVOLVED IS SO IMPORTANT.

I THINK IT'S WHY SOMETIMES TECHNOLOGY HAS NOT MADE ITS WAY INTO THE WORLD OF FIRST RESPONDERS.

THERE HASN'T REALLY BEEN A FULL APPRECIATION OF THE UNIQUE CIRCUMSTANCES THEY FACE AND HOW THEY NEED THAT TECHNOLOGY TO WORK FOR THEM.

THAT'S WHERE WE CAN CLOSE THE GAP.

LET ME ASK ABOUT ONE OF THE OTHER AREAS YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT.

THAT IS IN DIVERSITY WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT.

DIVERSITY IN ALL CATEGORIES WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT.

I WANT TO ASK YOU HOW.

BUT FIRST LET ME ASK YOU WHY.

I'M GOING TO POSE A QUESTION YOU PROBABLY HEARD BEFORE.

IT GOING LIKE THIS.

THE FDNY, THEIR JOB IS PERFORMANCE.

THEY HAVE TO GET THINGS DONE.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHAT THE DEPARTMENT LOOKS LIKE IF YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT A BOTTOM LINE EFFORT TO GET THINGS DONE?

WHAT'S YOUR ANSWER TO THAT?

I THINK THERE ARE TWO THINGS.

I COMPLETELY THROW OUT THE NOTION THAT DIVERSITY AND CHANGE AND TRADITION CANNOT COEXIST TOGETHER.

THEY COEXISTED IN THE WAY I WAS BROUGHT UP.

I BELIEVE THAT.

IT WAS THE WAY I WAS RAISED, MY WORLD WAS FORMED.

I HAVE LIVED IN ALL FIVE BUREAUS.

I LOVE THE CITY.

I THINK ITS DIVERSITY IS ITS STRENGTH.

THERE'S EVIDENCE BUT ALSO PERSONAL EXPERIENCE TO SHOW THAT DIVERSE TEAMS BRING ADDITIONAL SKILL SETS TO THE TABLE.

IN A MODERN CHANGING, EVER MORE COMPLEX CITY, THOSE SKILLS ARE ESSENTIAL.

OUR ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH SOMEONE IN THE MIDDLE OF A MEDICAL EMERGENCY IS ESSENTIAL, ALONG WITH THE SKILLS OF TREATING THAT EMERGENCY.

BEING ABLE TO NAVIGATE A COMMUNITY, COMMUNICATE IN AN EMERGENCY WITH THAT COMMUNITY, THOSE ARE THINGS THAT DIVERSITY BRINGS TO THE TABLE.

JUST MAKES US BETTER.

I DON'T THINK IT'S EITHER OR.

I THINK IT'S BOTH.

LET'S TALK ABOUT HOW NOW.

FDNY, STEEPED IN TRADITION.

THAT TRADITION IS WHAT POWERS IT FORWARD AND ALLOWS IT TO BE SO EFFECTIVE AS IT IS.

AS YOU KNOW, TRADITIONS CAN OFTEN THROW UP OBSTACLES TO CHANGE.

HOW DO YOU ENVISION GETTING PAST THE OBSTACLES OF TRADITION AND STRUCTURE TO EXPAND THE NOTION OF DIVERSITY WITHIN THE RANKS?

YEAH.

I THINK ONE PART -- I HAVE HAD SUCK IN.

I HAVE A PROVEN TRACK RECORD WHEN WE LAST OUR LAST RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN.

THE MOST DIVERSE LIST IN FDNY HISTORY.

IN TERMS OF THE TOOLS AND STRUCTURE, I KNOW HOW TO GET US THERE.

I KNOW HOW TO CREATE A POOL OF CANDIDATES WHO HAVE THE SAME TRADITIONS, THE SAME VALUES BUT WHO LOOK LIKE THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

OVER LAST YEARS, THAT HAS BEGUN TO CHANGE THE FACE OF THE FDNY, EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO.

CERTAINLY, WE TRIPLED THE NUMBER OF WOMEN AND WE HAVE VASTLY INCREASED THE NUMBER OF BLACK, LATINO, ASIAN CANDIDATES.

SO I THINK THERE'S A TRACK RECORD.

WE JUST NEED TO KEEP GOING.

I WOULD SAY, AS A LEADER, I TAKE VERY SERIOUSLY THE IDEA OF DEVELOPING A BENCH OF LEADERS.

THAT'S HOW I -- IT'S HOW MY CAREER WAS GROWN, WORKING IN COMMUNITY ORGANIZING.

IT'S ALL ABOUT DEVELOPING THE NEXT GENERATION OF LEADERS.

EVEN AS I'M JUST STEPPING INTO THIS ROLE, I'M ALREADY THINKING ABOUT, HOW DO WE COACH, TRAIN, MENTOR, FIND A BENCH OF DIVERSE, DEDICATED LEADERS WHO LOVE THE FDNY AND CAN SEE IT FORWARD INTO THE FUTURE?

WE HAVE SEEN A GREAT DEAL OF DISCUSSION, CERTAINLY, ABOUT THE PROBLEMS OF HOMELESSNESS ON THE STREETS, OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

WE NOTE FDNY IS OFTEN THE FIRST RESPONDER TO THOSE TYPES OF ISSUES.

HOW DO YOU MOVE FORWARD CREATING THE BALANCE THAT WE NEED OF PROTECTING SAFETY AND PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING FROM THESE DIFFICULTIES?

I THINK THAT IS WHERE THE FDNY IS SUCH A GREAT ORGANIZATION TO HELP WITH THESE PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES.

THEY ARE ONLY THERE TO PROVIDE HELP.

THEY ARE TRAINED IN EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE.

WE OFTEN SAY THAT THEY ARE REALLY BRINGING THE EMERGENCY ROOM TO THE STREET, WHICH IS REALLY AN INCREDIBLE THING TO PROVIDE CARE UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES.

WE HAVE DONE A LOT TO BUILD UP THE CAPACITY TO TREAT MENTAL HEALTH EMERGENCIES ON THE STREET.

YOU KNOW ABOUT THE PROGRAM.

AMBULANCES SPECIAL TRAINED WITH A SOCIAL WORKER ON BOARD.

SO THEY ARE MEANT TO NOT ONLY TREAT THE PHYSICAL HEALTH, BUT ALSO THE MENTAL HEALTH EMERGENCY AND GET THAT PERSON INTO REAL LONG-TERM CARE.

THE GOAL FOR THE ADMINISTRATION, FOR ME WHEN WE TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH EMERGENCY, PEOPLE I'M RELATED TO HAVE EXPERIENCED, IT'S ABOUT GETTING THEM INTO CARE.

MAKING SURE THAT THEY CAN FIND THE LONG-TERM SOLUTION THAT JUST ISN'T BETWEEN AN EMERGENCY ROOM AND THE STREET.

A LITTLE MORE THAN A MINUTE LEFT.

THERE'S SO MUCH MORE WE COULD TALK ABOUT.

HOPEFULLY, WE WILL GET YOU ON AGAIN AND CONTINUE THIS CONVERSATION.

I WOULD LOVE THAT.

NOT A BAD PLACE TO LEAVE, WE ARE GETTING INTO THE COLD.

AS YOU KNOW, WE SEE SPIKES IN FIRES, THIS SEASON.

LET ME ASK YOU TO LEAVE US WITH ADVICE.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO MEMBERS OUT THERE IN THE PUBLIC COMING INTO THIS SEASON TO HELP THEM IN PROVIDING THE TYPE OF PROTECTION THAT THEY NEED?

ABSOLUTELY.

AS YOU MENTIONED, FIRES GO UP IN THE WINTER.

THAT'S FROM A NUMBER OF FACTORS.

WHAT I WOULD ENCOURAGE EVERYONE, MY TOP LINE MESSAGE WOULD BE, EVEN THOUGH A FIRE MAYBE DOESN'T HAPPEN FREQUENTLY OR DOESN'T SEEM LIKE IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU, MAKE A PLAN.

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT TYPE OF BUILDING YOU LIVE IN.

WHAT FLOOR ARE YOU ON?

WHAT KIND OF CONSTRUCTION IS YOUR HOME?

ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO LEAVE IN AN EMERGENCY OR ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO SHELTER IN PLACE?

THAT'S VERY DIFFERENT DEPENDING ON THE BUILDING YOU LIVE IN IN NEW YORK AND OBVIOUSLY NEW YORK IS A COMPLEX CITY.

THAT'S SOMETHING THAT I REALLY ENCOURAGE EVERY SINGLE NEW YORKER TO KNOW AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ABOUT THE SPACE THEY LIVE IN AND HOW TO MAKE IT SAFE, HOW TO MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A WORKING SMOKE ALARM.

THAT'S THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO SAVE THE LIFE.

COOK SAFELY.

CELEBRATE TRADITIONS SAFELY.

THAT'S THE REASON WE SEE FIRES AROUND THIS TIME OF YEAR.

COOKING AND SOMETIMES IT'S BURNING CANDLES, VARIOUS THINGS THAT HAPPEN WHEN YOU GATHER TOGETHER WITH OUR FAMILY.

WE STILL WANT TO HAPPEN, BUT WE WANT IT TO HAPPEN SAFELY.

WE ENCOURAGE PEOPLE -- WE HAVE A WEBSITE.

I WILL PUSH THAT HERE.

PEOPLE CAN GET MORE DETAILED INFORMATION.

I JUST ENCOURAGE THEM TO THINK ABOUT IT, MAKE A PLAN WITH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, GET A SMOKE ALARM AND MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO CELEBRATE SAFELY.

CLEARLY, YOU HAVE A VISION MOVING FORWARD.

WE WANT TO WISH YOU THE BEST OF LUCK MOVING FORWARD WITH YOUR IDEAS AND DOING THE GREAT WORK OF THE FDNY.

COMMISSIONER LAURA KAVANAGH, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

LOOK FORWARD TO TALKING TO YOU AGAIN.

APPRECIATE IT.

YOU BE WILL.

YOU TOO.

THANK YOU.

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