New York City took a step towards diversifying its mostly white and male Fire Department Monday as Mayor Eric Adams signed a slew of City Council bills aimed at compelling the FDNY to incorporate more women and people of color into its ranks.
The legislation Adams signed in a ceremony at the FDNY Fire Training Academy on Randall’s Island Monday morning includes bills that would mandate the department craft a plan to diversity its uninformed workforce; assess which fire houses in the five boroughs need upgrades to support all genders; report annually on the FDNY’s demographics; train firefighters on diversity and harassment; and compile a report on complaints received by the department’s employment office.
All of the bills had unanimously passed the City Council early this month.
The mayor said he and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (no relation), who both attended Bayside High School at the time, came into their respective roles wanting to balance tradition with change – something these bills are trying to achieve.
“The two of us knew that we were going to take these positions. We’re going to take the positions with the understanding of how do we allow change and tradition to live side-by-side,” Mayor Adams said. “And that comes with diversity.”
“Today, I’ll be signing into law five bills that continue to promote diversity within the FDNY,” he added. “Diversity that reflects both the demographics and the spirit of our city. And all of these bills have a significant reason and purpose.”
The mayor’s signing of the diversity legislation follows his recent appointment of Laura Kavanagh as the first woman to lead the FDNY.
Speaker Adams pointed out that only 8% of the city’s firefighters are Black, while only 13% are Latino and 2% are Asian. Even more striking, she added, women make up only 1% of the FDNY’s ranks.
“For many decades, the FDNY has struggled to provide opportunities for all New Yorkers to serve our city,” the speaker said. “It has not been representative of our city’s rich diversity and we must acknowledge the shortcomings if we want to make progress. Simply put, the diverse makeup of our city’s neighborhoods has not been reflected in the Fire Department and that’s an outcome we can’t accept. The Fire Department, like many fire departments around the country, [is] disproportionately made up of white men.”
The speaker’s bill would direct the city Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to create and implement a plan for recruiting and retaining more firefighters from groups who are underrepresented in the department.
City Council Member Joann Ariola (R-Queens) celebrated getting the bills over the finish line as chair of the council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management. Ariola, who represents the Rockaways – home to many firefighters, said her bill was inspired by her female firefighter constituents alerting her to the lack of facilities serving all genders across the city’s firehouses.
“Many of my constituents are firefighters, many of those firefighters are women,” Ariola said. “And they visited my office and said that they just don’t have the privacy and the facilities that they need for locker rooms and for rest areas. That’s why I was so proud that we are now at a point where we’re going to survey firehouses and where they can, the female firefighters will be afforded the rest area that they need, the locker rooms that they need and the privacy that they need.”