It Took 157 Years, But New York Has a Female Fire Commissioner

Laura Kavanagh Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The New York City Fire Department is making history with its new commissioner. On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams officially announced that he is appointing Laura Kavanagh as the FDNY’s next fire commissioner — the first woman to serve in the role in the agency’s 157-year existence. Kavanagh has served as interim fire commissioner since the former commissioner, Daniel Nigro, announced his retirement in February after eight years in the role.

Philip Banks III, the deputy mayor for public safety, led the nationwide search for a new commissioner, but as the team reviewed résumés and interviewed candidates, Adams said Kavanagh kept coming to mind.

Adams, speaking from a Manhattan firehouse, highlighted the significant role Kavanagh played in leading the department’s response to the Ebola outbreak in 2015 and the COVID-19 pandemic. He recalled visiting hospitals with Kavanagh, speaking to families of firefighters injured or even killed in the line of duty.

“It didn’t matter if it was 3 to 4 a.m. in the morning. She was one ring away, and many times she was there before anyone else. Her style of leadership and commitment is just a reflection of what this city has to offer,” he said.

Before administering the oath to Kavanagh, Adams acknowledged the historic nature of the appointment. This isn’t the first time that the mayor has used his position to break glass ceilings in city government. He was flanked by his deputy mayors, five of whom are women, and NYPD commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first woman to serve in that role.

“This is a moment where we have to think about this accomplishment,” Adams said, noting that Kavanagh will run the nation’s largest fire department. “For every little girl, for every mother who has just wanted their babies to have the same opportunities as others.”

Kavanagh took to the podium, a little emotional after her mother joined her onstage to hold a Bible given to her by her grandmother for the oath of office. She thanked Adams for his “trust and faith” in her to lead the department.

“To say it’s an honor of a lifetime is an understatement,” Kavanagh said.

“Our city, our department, stands above the rest. And I know New York City is the greatest city in the entire world because I chose it,” she said. “I have lived in every borough, and I have worked in every community. This city is the love of my life, and I am relentlessly optimistic about its future.”

Kavanagh also reflected upon the history she was making, saying that it will play a large role in how she’ll make the position her own.

“This is the type of FDNY commissioner I will be: one that knows that I will succeed only if every person in my department and in our city sees my place at the table as also their own,” she said. “This moment, me being first, only matters if I’m not the last.”

New York Has a Female Fire Commissioner After 157 Years