Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appoints Daniel A. Nigro as Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department

May 9, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good afternoon everyone. It is a really wonderful day for New York City and a wonderful day for the fire department. And I think that – let me get my ordering right here – yes. First we're going to hear from someone who serves this city and this department every day. He is a proud Brooklynite, he serves in Brooklyn, FDNY Lieutenant Chris Ganci is the son of late Chief of Department Peter Ganci Jr.

Lieutenant Chris Ganci, FDNY: They wanted us to speak in height order so I went first. I also told them to make sure they order the largest podium they could. Welcome your Honor, distinguished guests, it is truly an honor to be here today, to get an opportunity to say a few words. I learned a long time ago that the fire department is a family. You can retire, you can leave the job entirely. Sometimes unfortunately, you can get killed. But once you become part of the fabric of the FDNY, you are forever woven into the rich history and traditions of our job. History and traditions that have been forged over 150 years of crawling down long, smoky hallways, and always being there when people need us the most. Chief Nigro is part of that long history, and I couldn't be prouder now to call him Commissioner Nigro. My father loved Dan. He loved him. He was the perfect straight man for my father's loose sense of humor: quick-witted, well-read, thoughtful. Dan, he never minded that you were so tall. He used to say, 'I had his old job, and I used to be that tall.'

But all kidding aside, he thought the world of you. He was so confident of your leadership qualities that when he was the chief of department and you were the chief of operations, I remember him telling us that he would leave the overall administration of the job to Danny, that way he could focus on the things he knew best and couldn't screw up: the operations and management of the units in the field. When attempting to assuage the disappointment that we sometimes felt when fire department business interfered with Ganci business, he used to say that it was a difficult task to balance the needs of our family with the needs of his other 10,000 sons and daughters.

In hindsight, it was a small sacrifice to pay for such a large responsibility. Commissioner Nigro, like Commissioner Cassano before you, I am confident that the safety of the members in the field and the citizens of this great city is as paramount to you as it was for my father. You studied hard throughout your career, you showed that hard work pays off, and you rose through the ranks and achieved almost every position in our esteemed department. That is why you are uniquely qualified to help the great members of this department execute our oath for the citizens of this city, and the protection of life and property. In the days and months after September 11, you helped get this job back on its feet. I remember thinking afterwards how proud my father would have been of you Dan. But I know for sure that today, he'd be beaming with pride to see you achieve this monumental achievement. Chief, welcome to the fire department. Thank you very much for letting me speak and say a few of these words. And I get the pleasure of introducing our distinguished mayor to speak next, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Thank you.

[Applause]

Mayor: Chris, thank you. That was powerful and very much appreciated, and thank you again for your service and the extraordinary service that your family has done for this city. I want to – before we go into the details of today – I want to thank a number of people who are here, and are part of today, part of making today happen also.

First of all, I want to thank our host, Deputy Assistant Chief John Mooney, who runs this wonderful facility. And we're joined by the Chief of the Emergency Medical Service, Adno Nahmod. Thank you for your presence here with us.

Special thank you, and I think this is an example of what we all care about, and what this is all about – the individuals behind us, these 23 probationary firefighters literally represent the future of a strong and safe New York City. Let's thank all of them. I just want to say objectively, they are a damn good looking group. I just wanted to say that. See, I can't get them to crack a smile. That proves how disciplined they are.

I want to thank Robert Turner, FDNY Battalion Chief, former colleague of Dan Nigro's. I want to thank FDNY Lieutenant Mike Marshall, who's the diversity advocate. I want to thank members of our administration. Zach Carter is here, our corporation counsel, who's played an important role already in some of the important changes we're going to make for the future of this department. I want to thank the people who played a role in the process of bringing Dan Nigro in as our commissioner. Maya Wiley is here, my general counsel, and she was a key part of the process, along with my chief of staff, Laura Santucci, and my first deputy mayor, Tony Shorris. I want to thank OEM Commissioner Joe Bruno, who's been a great, crucial part of our response to so many emergencies, and has worked so closely with this department as well. I want to thank a great friend and ally of this department, Liz Crowley, Council member and chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice. And I want to thank our colleagues who represent the people who do the work, UFOA President Al Hagan, and Izzy Miranda, president of the EMS workers. I want to thank everyone for being a part of this important moment. I also want to thank John Coombs, the president of the Vulcan Society.

And a thank you that I think is particularly special, that your dad is here, yes.

Incoming Commissioner Daniel Nigro, FDNY: He is.

Mayor: That this is truly a family affair, because ahead of this Dan Nigro, is Dan Nigro, Sr., retired FDNY captain, 93 years old, and on top of the action as we speak. Would you point your dad out to us?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: There he is.

Mayor: There he is.

[Applause]

So this is a family that has devoted themselves to service to this city, and that's another reason why it's a great day for the Fire Department, a great day for the city. In Dan Nigro, we have an exemplary, a born leader, a man who served this department so well over decades, played every conceivable role there is to play, and did it with great distinction. I've got to tell you, as I've talked to people in recent days, the respect, the warmth in their voice when they talk about Dan Nigro, when they talk about his extraordinary history of commitment to this department – it's something that immediately tells you that this is a true leader. A natural leader who will run this agency well as we move forward into the future.

Dan was raised in Bayside, Queens, and – as you've seen – in a firefighting family. Dan joined the department in 1969, spent three decades in it. I saw what Al Hagan in the papers, and I think it was exactly right – Dan was a part of this department in some of its most challenging moments: late 60s and into the 70s, when so much of this city was tragically burning. And it was a time that really tested the metal of our firefighters, and our fire officers, and Dan rose to the occasion over and over again. And after those decades of service, after helping to see us through those very tough times, that might have been assumed to be enough, but no one knew that one day was coming that would change everything forever.

On September 11th, 2001, Dan, as chief of operations – as you heard – was working alongside his dear friend, Peter Ganci, Chief of Department. And that day, no one knew what was to happen. No one knew how bad it would be. And in the midst of all of the challenges, in the midst of trying to fight through such a difficult situation, Dan learned that his dear friend had died in action. And yet, in the middle of that, Dan had to persevere, he had keep fighting, he had to keep marshaling the troops, and he performed with great distinction that day, supervising the evacuation of 7 World Trade Center. He was quickly named Chief of Department, succeeding his friend, and he had to lead the FDNY and inspire it through its darkest days, and help get this department back on its feet.

He's won a lot of awards over his career, not only in this city, but beyond, across this country. Internationally, he's been recognized as a great leader. And what is most impressive to me about Dan is not how many years he's put in, how much he accomplished, how many awards he has won – what really impresses me is his vision for the future of this department. It's a vision rooted in a real love for the department, and the people who make it up, the people who serve us every day. But he's always understood that as the world changes, we have to do more and more to continue to perfect this department, to keep it number one in this country, to make sure that we're always looking for ways to do things better, and to make sure it reflects all that is great about New York City. And when I've heard Dan talk about his vision, it's compelling, it's something that comes from the heart, it's something that comes from real experience. And some of what he achieved along the way speaks to that sense, of always looking for a way to do things better.

Dan did an extraordinary job helping to spearhead the merger between FDNY and EMS, which was important and crucial for the ability of this city to protect people in need. Dan played a key role in bringing the CompStat system into the fire department, and helping to make sure operations went more smoothly and efficiently. And, he's been devoted throughout his career to the notion that everyone deserves opportunity. It's part of who he is as a human being. And he has a great ability to relate to people from every part of this city, and he wants to make sure this department reflects all that is great about this city.

I know that he'll know how to do these things right, because he's done it before over and over again. And I think that the future is bright, because we're putting some of the challenges of the past behind us. In March, we settled a civil rights lawsuit that was brought by the Vulcan Society, that needed to be settled, that needed to delineate a series of changes for the good of the future of this department. And Dan will be the person to make sure that we move forward appropriately. He'll be the person overseeing the new work of the permanent Chief Diversity Officer. He'll be the person making sure recruiters get out and bring in people of every background who are ready to serve and have the ability to be great firefighters. We're going to make sure this department is stronger than ever, that it's going to exemplify the values of this city, and Dan will be a fantastic champion for the men and women of this department, and for its ability to serve everyday New Yorkers.

I'm just going to offer a moment in Spanish: Me da un gran placer presentar al próximo comisionado del Departamento de Bomberos de la ciudad, Dan Nigro. Él tiene la experiencia, el talento, y el carácter para ser un magnífico líder de éstos valientes de Nueva York.

It is my honor to introduce a man, who for decades was a brave and effective firefighter, a natural leader, a natural agent of change and reform, and someone who wins the trust and faith of all around him because he serves in such an exemplary manner. The next commissioner of the FDNY, Dan Nigro.

[Applause]

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Thank you. The mayor is very helpful. As I begin, there are a few people, quite a few actually, that I must thank and first, of course, is the man to my right, Mayor de Blasio, and I thank you, Mayor, for having faith in me and selecting me to lead the fire department in this exciting time. Thanks also to the folks who encouraged me to seek the position, and who continue to encourage me over the course of the process. And I especially thank the people here to my left, my lovely wife Lynn, and my great family, for giving me back to the department. They all understand that the commitment of time and energy I will make will change all of our lives, and I will need their support and I know I can count on it. But now is a good time to come clean and confess that for many years I've had two families: the one here with me to my left, and the larger one, that Chris mentioned, the FDNY.

When I was born, my father was a young firefighter, from Ladder 6 on Canal Street. So the fire department was with us at the dinner table every night. In 1969, as soon as I was old enough to join, I entered the department with a smile that was ear to ear. And I can still remember how happy and proud I was. But before any of the members here think that it is going to be easy, with a [inaudible] old uncle at the helm, remember, that no one expects more of you than your family. Your friends, neighbors, strangers, they expect very little of you. Your family expects much. I expect all of you to be the very best. And I will accept nothing less. Now let me say – when I say that the New York City Fire Department, I'm forgetting about EMS – I was very proud to be the first FDNY chief there following the merger. And I will work very hard to continue what I started almost twenty years ago. And the rest of the fire department, the non-uniform members, also - there's no first class, there's no business class, there's no coach on this flight. I think you're all first class – you're all part of a first-class organization – the fire department.

I've been enjoying my retirement. I really have. I've enjoyed the time with my family. I've enjoyed the travel. 'So why go back?' I've been asked, and there are two reasons, with no hesitation on my part. First, it's the New York City Fire Department. As Pete Ganci would say - having Chris speak today, and his brother Pete here and his brother-in-law Brian, makes Pete a part of this today. Pete would say, 'It doesn't get any better than that.' In addition, opportunities to make a difference do not come along often in one's life – if at all. I have been presented with a wonderful opportunity. I listened closely to our mayor's speech back at his inauguration. He spoke of the things we needed to do as a city to improve conditions for everyone. He said over and over, 'We won't wait. We will do it now.' And the changes have been coming one after another, with the overriding theme, as I see it, of fairness.

Being a part of this administration is truly exciting. One of the beautiful things about the fire department is the simplicity of the fire department's mission. Like the toy fire engine my granddaughter over here, Sarah, would ride on, you wouldn't think I would buy her anything else. Maybe an ambulance, but that's as far as I'd go. When you push the button on the fire engine it would simply say, 'We're here to help'. You call, the fire department comes. There's no preference, social standing net worth, or anything else. We're here to help. Since I left, the department has made enormous strides in training and operations. And much of that success is due to the leadership of Commissioner Cassano, Chief Kilduff, and the hard work of each and every member – firefighter, paramedic, EMT.

We must continue ways to operate better and safer. We will not stand still. We must also take this energy and this ability to be the world leader in operational standards to every other aspect of the department. We must no longer wait for a judge's ruling to tell us what fairness [inaudible]. We must get out front. We must point the way to change. There is no place in the fire department of our beautiful, diverse city, for injustice and inequality. We will do what it takes to make this department a better place for everyone. As we have always said, even in the worst times, it's the greatest job in the world. Let's make sure we enable other to share it with us - not because we have to, but because it's right. One thing I rarely heard in all of my years in the department was, 'We can't do that'. Let's not say it now. I believe there's truth in the saying 'With age comes wisdom', because I certainly now have one of those, and I hope I possess the other. I do believe I will be able to lead the department and provide the leadership that enables all of its members to do what they do best – help their fellow New Yorkers when they're in need. New York was a great city last year in 2013. I think it's gotten better in 2014. Let's all take this great department into a future that will make all New Yorkers proud. Thank you.

[Applause]

Mayor: Alright, we're going to take questions on this topic first, and then we'll be taking some questions on other topics. Let's start.

Question: [inaudible] how has [inaudible] technology changes? And how confident are you [inaudible] technology?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Well my hope is that I will not have to be the head of the IT department of the fire department, [inaudible] would soon fail. I have kept up to date with all of those things, and have a smartphone and an iPad, and a computer and a Twitter account and everything that goes with it. So I do know that communication in today's age is quite different from when I left. I'm quite sure I'll be capable of keeping up with the help of the fire department's excellent IT.

Question: A question for the [inaudible]. Also, why go back, if you wanted to go back [inaudible]? What was through your mind [inaudible]? What went through your mind? You didn't hesitate at all, you said, but what were you thinking?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Truly, the events of 9/11 and the people of 9/11 never leave me. When I walk in this building, there's a picture of each and every one of the firefighters we lost and I think for almost every one of them, I can remember a story. But what I was thinking was the fire department was great before that day, it was exemplary on that day. I always wanted to be a part of the fire department. Coming back to it is a dream. A dream come true.

Question: [inaudible] if I could [inaudible]?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Oh it's a very, a very emotional day as you can see. You can tell by the tone of my voice. I think the fire department holds a very special part in my heart. As Chris described before, you don't leave it. Once you enter, no matter what happens, you're a part of it. So coming back to it, coming back to the – seeing some of the people that are still here that I know – warms my heart, brings emotions back, some of them difficult but all of them important and strong. And I can't wait to get to the work with the fire department.

Question: Commissioner, are you getting a regular pension or [inaudible] as commissioner?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: I have been getting a disability pension, which I will no longer be getting. After 9/11, I was found to have what hundreds if not thousands of firefighters had, respiratory problems, which precluded me from doing what these uniformed people do. But that's not what the mayor hired me to do, so that's it.

Question: Commissioner, [inaudible] department must [inaudible] for a judge to tell you [inaudible]. Are you coming in with a set of goals or initial steps to continue expanding diversity in the department?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Sure, well I think it's – certainly I think it's very clear what the goals of this administration are. And I think when that was settled, most recently with the Vulcan Society that case and the mayor spoke out on it, he made it very clear the direction we're going to go. We're not just going to follow that order, but we're going to try to set the tone that this fire department is not here to do something because we're told, but we're going to do something because it's right. It's the right thing to do.

Question: So Commissioner, what do you think will be your biggest challenge?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: The first thing a department must do in order to keep us all safe is to continue to operate the way it's operating: [inaudible] respond quickly, to respond properly, and to do those things. And that's my grandson. I didn't even have to look really.

[Laughter]

Very nice, Liam. He took me right out of that. But of course the diversity issue is a great challenge, but it's a great challenge that I look forward to working together with many people on and solving and to bringing this department into a very bright future.

Question: Just for logistic purposes, is your first day on Monday? [inaudible]

Mayor: No, we're going to – we're going to work out the start date. It'll be sometime in the coming weeks, but we haven't set a date. I just want to say, I have immense respect for Commissioner Cassano. I worked with him for many, many years. And I said recently, I want to [inaudible] thank him on behalf of the people of the city for how he handled the tragedy in East Harlem, which I thought was exemplary. And he has served the city very, very well. So we'll come to the decision quite soon about the exact start date for Commissioner Nigro.

Question: You mentioned earlier about [inaudible] the family [inaudible]. Your father was a [inaudible]. [inaudible] when you found out you were being appointed, what was it like [inaudible]?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Well, conveying to him that I am now going to be commissioner – certainly it was a proud moment for me, and I know it was a proud moment for him, for our family. As you can see over there, everyone there in my family – my son-in-laws, my nephews, every one of them has made the fire department their career – so it's somewhat what we do. And to be announced as commissioner, as Pete said, it doesn't get any better than that. My dad came on in 1946 when he returned from a beautiful tour of the islands of the South Pacific, a place I think that the mayor's father also was at that time. And when he came back, he came onto the fire department at that time and [inaudible].

Question: I'm just wondering Commissioner if this is a different fire department for you from the days after you had to take over after 9/11. What [inaudible] the job today?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Well certainly as I understand it, most of the firefighters on the department came on after September 11, 2001. So it's a different department. I look around here at training, it's a different department, technologically more advanced, the training has improved. A lot of lessons from 9/11 were taken here to training, and the lessons were learned well. Our firefighters come out of school here very well prepared. I think the lessons – a great lesson I learned after 9/11 was organizing something that at first appears to be too large to organize. And I learned that it could be done, and it can be done properly.

Question: [inaudible]

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Well besides the fact that I like him personally, it made his father a part of today. We all know what that [inaudible].

Question: Commissioner, can you give us some specifics on how you plan to diversify the department? And for the mayor, why was Commissioner Cassano not the right person for the job? [inaudible]

Mayor: First of all, my broad approach to the appointments process is to bring in new leaders, very few exceptions. And again, I have worked with Sal Cassano for many years, hold him in very high regard, and have worked very well with him in recent months too. But when you're elected to lead, you want to make sure that you have the approach you're looking for exactly as you're trying to achieve it – the philosophy, the experience. It's clear to me, I looked at what Dan Nigro believes in and what he's achieved, that he fit what I need to do and what I believe in, and what I'm here to do. And I think the deep understanding he brings – not only of what is historically extraordinary about this department – but what was made better over the years, and what can be made still better. That's really his calling card. You look at him, he is someone as you heard, with the deepest family tradition in this department and with a keen sense of how to keep making it better. And he's done that already in his career, and that's why he fits my vision of the department. On the question of, the other question –

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: Well certainly, there's already parts of a plan outlined about diversity and that's in the agreement. A chief diversity inclusion officer will be brought on board, someone who we trust that can work with the team. We will put together the best team we can and look at things. But the fire department approach to things, the way I see it, is we do things to conclusion. There's been starts and stops, starts and stops. If we come to the scene, we don't leave the scene until we've concluded it operationally. We came – 9/11, we arrived at the World Trade Center – we didn't leave that scene until June when everything was found to bedrock. We will work on this, we will finish this when it's done – when this department is the way the mayor and I feel it should be, and the people of New York feel it should be. I mean, I think 75 percent of the people saw the mayor's vision and voted in that direction. And if they continue to see that, this is the direction that we want to go. So we will take it to – in fire department manner – we will get into it, and we'll be finished when it's done.

Question: [inaudible] I'm wondering if you're satisfied with that? Some of the fire unions are unhappy [inaudible]?

Mayor: Let me just start and say that this is an area we're going to continue to look at. [inaudible] I think it's one of the most sensitive elements of all that is done by this department begins at the point of contact when a citizen calls in. So I want you to know that we are going to continue to review the plans, the operations, and continue to work on perfecting them. And that's a very important piece of what the commissioner will be doing.

Question: Mr. Mayor, in the wake of the settlement a federal monitor [inaudible] to hiring, steps have been taken already [inaudible]. Do you have a sense of what's an appropriate level of diversity in the department? And a second part, would you consider as commissioner, appointing a person of color or a woman?

Mayor: I considered a wide range of options as I do with each appointment, but I only interviewed very few people and very recently. It was clear to me that Dan Nigro was the person that could carry the mission in every way – all of the things that make up being a successful commissioner. In terms of where we need to go, we have to make steady progress. I don't hinge it on a particular data. I agree with the way Dan characterized it – until the job is done. But I think what we have to see is steady progress. And we have to create an atmosphere of inclusion and a recruiting effort that really gives a wide range New Yorkers an understanding of what an extraordinary career this can be. And let everyone who is a part of this city know that yes, this is for them. So that's what I am going to be judging by – what kind of effort we make and what kind of progress we make. On this topic. This topic – going once, going twice, oh –

Question: For Nigro – if there is an image, or a moment, from the day you worked on 9/11 [inaudible] what was going on?

Incoming Commissioner Nigro: That would be hard to narrow it down. But certainly as Pete and I stood at the base of the North Tower and saw a second plane hit the South Tower, we knew that what had become the worst day of our lives had now doubled. And become neither of us in our wildest dreams could have imagined facing. So at that moment, it was – although Pete remained calm and did what a fire chief does and called the right units and did all the right things, even faced with the enormity of that.

Mayor: Okay. Off topic. Off topic. Yep –

Question: [inaudible] –

Mayor: A little louder –

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I don't literally know what their plan is. We'll certainly have people follow up with him. Obviously we want to give their proposal a fair hearing and we'll get them an answer. But I am not familiar with it at all. Grace –

Question: With the horses the past year [inaudible] that have died [inaudible]

Mayor: That is a statistic I have not heard before and it obviously concerns me and I need to find out more about it. Yes –

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I haven't seen his comments. I don't know the context. I can say that the contract that we have agreed to pending ratification is absolutely a document filled with reform and improvement for our school system. I think a lot of folks that have looked at have come to the conclusion, as we have, that this is an extraordinary moment of chance – an improvement for our schools. The fact that we're going to be able to in up to 200 schools - change work rules and regulations I should say, - the fact that we're going to be able to reward the best teachers, which we have never done before. The fact that we're going to be able to additionally incentivize teachers to go to the schools that are having the most trouble and getting some of our best teachers for where the heat is greatest. These are all foundational changes - obviously, the greater emphasis on parent engagement and more time for parent-teacher conferences and communication. These are all fundamental reforms so Mr. Mulgrew was [inaudible] in making those reforms happen with us and I respect it.

Question: How [inaudible] have you voted to open up the [inaudible] committee [inaudible]. Obviously you're very close to Hillary Clinton [inaudible] the House Republicans [inaudible] former Secretary of State on this particular matter?

Mayor: I think it's been politicized, obviously. And I don't think that's appropriate when the lives of Americans overseas are the questions. So are there legitimate questions that could ever be asked in any situation? Of course. But I think some of what we've seen, including inclusion of content about Benghazi and fundraising appeals, suggests a politicization that's not appropriate.

Question: Critics of the – I know in the contract you say that the teachers – the teachers that [inaudible]. There are critics that say that could lead some legal wrangling open to what constitutes proper behavior. Are you going to figure out a mechanism that could –

Mayor: Oh I think we have it. That's a good question but I think we have that mechanism right because there's an arbitrator process. But what's very clear – and this is the nuance that I think that has been a bit missed so I'm glad you asked the question – a capable teacher, who ended up in the [inaudible] pool because the school they worked for closed – for example – is going to have better opportunity to continue teacher effectively under this plan. Because we're going to give them a chance to be able to do the work they know how to do well and continue to improve. But a teacher who is not cut out for this job now faces a process a process that's much better, much fast. They will have an opportunity to prove themselves and if they can prove themselves, great. But if they can't it's quite a clear and distinct process and there's an arbitrator that makes the final decision in a clear timeline. So I think it's a great improvement in both instances. For the folks who are letting capable teachers [inaudible] have a better chance to continue and for those who need to find a different profession. I think it's going to allow us to get them there much quicker.

Question: How confident are you that moving of unidentified remains [inaudible] will be handled properly? There have been family members [inaudible] that feel that is not where they belong.

Mayor: I've talked to Incoming Commissioner Nigro about this and I [inaudible] myself. A lot of this in the first instance is handled by the office and the chief medical examiner which I think has done an absolutely extraordinary job over these years – respectfully and carefully working with the families. And I've heard a lot of compliments for their work over the years and they really were in the core of this. And the basic outline of what we're doing was cut up by the previous administration at the end of the previous administration they succumbed to how this would proceed leading up to the opening of the museum. But, as we've looked at, we've - there's been a lot of dialogue with family members. A lot of family members have agreed that this is the right approach. It's respectful. It's a very respectful transfer. We thought it was important to be transparent about it. There was some talk in the past about not announcing that it was going to happen. We thought it was appropriate and important to announce it. So I'm confident this is being done respectfully after a lot of consultation with family members and in a way that really dignifies this moment and the sacred ground that we're discussing. Thanks everyone.

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