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Laura Kavanagh sits on chiefs’ demotion bids in FDNY mutiny

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh is in a “Mexican standoff” with 10 top chiefs who asked to be demoted in protest of her controversial department shake-up, The Post has learned.

Chief of Department John Hodgens and Chief of Operations John Esposito requested demotions in February after Kavanagh demoted three staff chiefs without consulting them, calling it a “breach of trust. The mutiny grew to eight other chiefs asking to be downgraded in solidarity.

Kavanagh asked for a 90-day “cooling-off period.” But in the past six months, she has not acted on any request, and won’t say when, if ever, she will do so — leaving tensions simmering.

“It’s a Mexican standoff,” said a person familiar with FDNY operations.

Kavanagh put herself in a bind by sparking the protest, the source added. Replacing so many highly experienced chiefs “could be disastrous” in a major fire or emergency.

Hodgens served as commander at the crane collapse in Manhattan this week.

Kavanagh, the FDNY’s first female commissioner, is hamstrung as Phil Banks, Mayor Adams’ deputy mayor of public safety, now calls the shots – and won’t let her grant the demotions, insiders said.

FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens requested a demotion in February along with 9 other top agency chiefs after FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh demoted three other staff chiefs without consulting him or Chief of Operations John Esposito.

FDNY Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito
FDNY Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito
Getty Images

Kavanagh’s first deputy, Joseph Pfeifer, raised the fire officers’ ire after telling New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd he didn’t see how any of the mutineers could be part of the team going forward.

“There’s a lot of very experienced people in the field that we can bring up, that may even have more experience than some of the people that want to self-demote,” he said in her April 8 column.

“No one has replaced the chiefs because no one else has the necessary incident-command experience,” said Jim Walden, a lawyer for the three demoted chiefs and other FDNY staffers who have joined an age-discrimination lawsuit against Kavanagh and Banks. “It’s total paralysis.”

More than two months ago, Hodgens and Esposito asked Kavanagh to replace those she had demoted, those on medical leave and others who requested demotion “because chiefs are filling double and triple Incident command responsibilities and are exhausted,”  according to a knowledgeable source. They got no response.

FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Joseph Pfeifer
FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Joseph Pfeifer has said he supports FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh’s personnel decisions.
Michael Graae

Meanwhile, deputy and battalion chiefs have expressed no interest in filling the shoes of downgraded higher-ups.

James McCarthy, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said it’s his understanding Kavanagh will not grant the demotions. A major holdup, he said, is the lack of existing civil service positions for the chiefs requesting demotions to go into. The chiefs who Kavanagh demoted are now deputy chiefs, a civil service job in his union.

McCarthy said he doesn’t believe the infighting will affect FDNY operations.

Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and Chief of Department John Hodgens.
Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and Chief of Department John Hodgens.
Paul Martinka

“Everybody is still doing their jobs,” he said. “After Sept. 11, we lost a tremendous amount of people, 343, a lot of leaders, a lot of officers, a lot of firefighters, and the men and women of the fire department still responded and did their jobs as best they could. So we are going to step up and do what we are asked to do and meet all the challenges.”

The FDNY did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Joe Marino

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