New FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro -- invoking the theme "It is time" -- Monday vowed to change cultural attitudes that have historically kept the predominantly white-male department from hiring and promoting women and minorities.
"It is time to move forward to what is right, because it is right," Nigro said after being sworn in as New York City's 33rd commissioner. "We should not burn all our bridges, especially those bridges that link us to our glorious heroes and the traditions that we always celebrate and honor. The bridge that links us to inequality should be burned. We will do better. It is time."
Mayor Bill de Blasio administered the oath to Nigro before several hundred FDNY officers and civilian employees at the department's headquarters in Brooklyn. Nigro, who had retired in 2002 as chief of department, said he felt compelled to "establish a theme to find direction when the paths get obscure."
In March, the city agreed to settle its 2007 federal discrimination lawsuit that claimed two civil service exams were discriminatory against blacks and Hispanics. The city agreed to pay $98 million in back pay and compensate minority applicants who took the exams in 1999 and 2002.
Currently, 8 percent of the FDNY ranks are Hispanic, while 4 percent are black, said FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer, adding that the three recent graduation classes are "the most diverse classes in its history. It will take time for them to be promoted."
Women make up almost 0.5 percent of the ranks, the FDNY said.
In his speech, Nigro said, "We will ensure that every one will get a chance to be one of us. We will have fairness and excellence. It is time."
John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters that filed the discrimination lawsuit, said after the ceremony that Nigro "nailed it." But he added it will take "courage to make this sea change." Coombs said the exams "should be taken out of the hands of those in the department as well as the cadet program" to ensure fairness.
Nigro, 65, joined the FDNY in 1969, following in the footsteps of his father, a retired captain. Nigro moved up the ranks, serving as chief of operations from 1999 to 2001. He became chief of the department after 9/11, replacing his close friend Peter Ganci Jr., killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The mayor lauded Nigro for his steadfast leadership during 9/11 despite the loss of his friend. "Dan did everything that could be done under the circumstance, while having to deal with all the pain of the loss of that moment. A true act of courage is to stand strong no matter what you're going through," de Blasio said.