DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro appeared in Brooklyn Federal Court on Friday after nine firefighters were suspended without pay for allegedly sharing racist messages and images online, some reportedly including memes mocking George Floyd.
The fire department has been dealing with allegations of racism and discrimination for years, including a federal lawsuit from 2007 that determined the written firefighter’s test was discriminatory against Black and Hispanic applicants. The judge from Friday and a federal monitor have been overseeing these issues for over a decade, which is why the judge was frustrated to learn of the department’s largest punishment in its history through a report by the New York Times.
The judge wanted the commissioner to address the discipline in person and explain why the punishments weren’t made public.
“We were unable to do it because of a regulation and in the future going forward we certainly will,” Nigro said. “We have nothing to hide.”
The nine firefighters were suspended without pay ranging from a few days to six months.
The FDNY said it’s taken steps to make the department more more diverse but more work needs to done with inclusivity.
Firehouse culture is known to have camaraderie, but is also known for taunting, teasing, and sometimes hazing.
The commissioner said although there are problems, the culture also celebrates teamwork and one family.
“It’s particular culture within the firehouse of teamwork that some people have difficulty getting away from,” Nigro added. “People don’t have to all be the same to get the mission accomplished and that’s the message we’re producing and actually, they will do the mission better. It’s been proven over and over and over — a diverse workforce is better.”
The Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters, was also in court. President Dellon Morgan said not being inclusive makes it difficult to achieve the goal of public safety.
“It’s almost insanity that a job that you risk your life — you don’t get a script on who you’re going to save — and members of this department can put themselves in harms way but then right after that go back into the firehouse in the kitchen and treat someone differently,” Morgan said. “It’s crazy to me.”
He is hopeful that change is coming.
“EEO matters need to be dealt with swiftly and aggressively so they know that the behavior is not tolerated,” Morgan said. “You can be a racist, but you got to to keep inside — not while you’re in the uniform.”
The judge added he wasn’t asking for answers on Friday. Instead, he wanted to identify concerns.
The commissioner said it’s inexplainable and indefensible why cultural change is taking so long, but he assures it’s coming to ensure current members and talented candidates feel welcomed.
They’re due back in court on Dec. 16.