What Daniel Nigro Has Seen in a Half-Century on the F.D.N.Y.

Throughout Daniel A. Nigro’s 73 years, there’s been one fixed: the New York Metropolis Hearth Division. He adopted his father into the ranks in 1969, and within the 53 years since, Mr. Nigro held nearly each job there may be to carry within the division, from “probie” at a Manhattan engine home to fireside commissioner.

On Wednesday, he’ll retire after eight years because the division’s chief.

Mr. Nigro has seen all of it, or most of it — from the crime-ridden ’70s to the “Battle Years” of the ’80s, when fires have been widespread in New York, to town’s resurgence within the 2000s. Final month, he was on the scene of a hearth that killed 17 people in the Bronx — one of many deadliest within the metropolis in a long time.

He led the division by the Sept. 11 terror assaults, taking up as chief of division for his longtime buddy, Chief Peter Ganci, who was killed within the collapse of the North Tower of the World Commerce Middle. As hearth commissioner — he was appointed in 2014 after retiring for the first time in 2002 — he has weathered allegations of racial bias because the division sought to diversify.

Right here, in an edited dialog, Mr. Nigro talks about what he has realized — about hearth, in regards to the metropolis and about how the nation’s most storied hearth division ought to remake itself.

You’ve seen the division and town evolve over half a century. How have issues modified in New York firefighting?

In these years, arson was an amazing issue. Whether or not it was arson for revenue, whether or not it was arson for individuals simply eager to get out of their depressing circumstance, into one thing higher.

What occurred with arson?

No matter was happening again then, individuals bought sensible to it. The division had a complete redcap program for quite a lot of years, hearth marshals with pink baseball caps that have been in neighborhoods that have been vulnerable to arson, actually working onerous to catch individuals and prosecute individuals.

Once I labored in East Harlem, half of the buildings have been vacant. However there are usually not too many vacant buildings in New York Metropolis anymore.

New York’s neighborhoods have modified, too. There’s revenue disparity, completely different language boundaries. How has that affected you?

In sure areas with new development, they’re all required now to have hearth security constructed into them with sprinklers and whatnot. You see a lot safer buildings, and sure different areas that have been depressed at one time have, I suppose you would say, gentrified to a sure extent. Individuals are capable of pay larger rents, and landlords are capable of make enhancements within the buildings.

However there’s nonetheless areas in our metropolis the place the disparity exhibits, and that’s the place the issues are. You may do the demographics on a neighborhood, and you’ll notice that the necessity for responding to structural fires might be larger there.

The very act of responding to a hearth should be utterly completely different now than it was whenever you began.

Once I began, there was a system the place they rang a sequence of bells within the firehouse, and also you counted the bells. And if it mentioned 7-2-3, you knew the field was at thirty fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Now, issues come over computer systems and we now have G.P.S. However firefighting has remained a really bodily activity, of a bunch of individuals responding with heavy gear and having to enter a troublesome surroundings to place water on a hearth.

You’ve talked rather a lot about Sept. 11 and what that day meant for you and meant for the division. Are you able to replicate on that?

I’ve mentioned you could have a life earlier than 9/11, after which life modified endlessly, after 9/11. You don’t utterly take away your self from what occurred. A bit of little bit of unhappiness stays with you. I feel town at the moment, for a really quick, quick time frame was form of like Camelot. You realize, everybody was collectively for that one transient, shining second. And you’ll’t count on that to final.

Do you continue to really feel just like the Hearth Division has the form of public assist it had after 9/11? Clearly there’s been public criticism of your accomplice company, the police.

I feel so. With uncommon exceptions — perhaps we now have a nasty somebody doing one thing they shouldn’t — for essentially the most half, individuals look as much as the Hearth Division, and we don’t have the identical troublesome points a police division has.

You helped oversee the merger of E.M.S. into the Hearth Division. There’s quite a lot of speak about pay disparities inside E.M.S. Do you suppose that taking part in subject ought to be extra equal?

It takes quite a lot of coaching to be a paramedic. I’d not be disturbed if the paramedics obtained extra pay, and nor would I be if our E.M.T.s negotiated a contract that bought them extra money.

The division has diversified considerably throughout your tenure, nevertheless it nonetheless lags behind different companies. Why has it been so troublesome?

The division was 93 p.c white at one time. To rise up to a quantity that’s acceptable within the civil service system takes time. I feel we’re doing a reasonably good job and shifting ahead in that regard.

The division has, I feel, has performed an excellent job in these previous eight years. Now we nonetheless have a distance to go. However we are going to get there. The division actually seems to be much more like town than it did years in the past.

What do you suppose has held it again?

The hiring course of relies on the civil service examination, and to rent off a listing limits the velocity by which they will diversify. I feel what held it again is the division being myopic in not seeing — or seeing it, and simply not caring — that, “Hey, we all know there’s one thing improper right here that everybody on this division is a white man.”

What’s one factor that you simply want you’d performed otherwise?

I feel you at all times look again and see, you recognize, you perhaps didn’t full every part that began. For essentially the most half, I moved the division within the path I needed to maneuver it: to higher respect and combine E.M.S. and to better diversify the department. And I can’t say “mission completed.” I’ll by no means say that. I’d simply say that I hope my successor continues to maneuver in that path. What Daniel Nigro Has Seen in a Half-Century on the F.D.N.Y.

Fry Electronics Team

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