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Top FDNY chief takes fall for commish declaring department will ‘hunt down’ NY AG Letitia James hecklers

FDNY Promotions. Wednesday, March 13, 2024 PICTURED: FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens presided over the promotion ceremony of 298 probationary Firefighters held this morning at 10AM inside the Christian Cultural Center, 12020 Flatlands Avenue, Brooklyn. Among the 298 graduates were Jerome Nedd whose father died during the 9/11 attack and Henry Hinton and Brian Sullivan whose fathers died due to 9/11 illness since. FDNY Promotions

In an email Tuesday to battalion chiefs, Chief of Department John Hodgens backed off his prior internal announcement, admitting his use of the term “hunt’” was “a poor choice of words.”

“It was not meant to be taken literally and was never uttered by anyone on the executive staff,” he wrote. “Specifically, there was not, and is not, an investigation into members booing.”

Hodgens’ March 9 email to FDNY deputy chiefs warned of a probe by the department’s Bureau of Investigation and Trials, BITS, to identify which employees booed James — and chanted “Trump!” — when James took the podium at a promotion ceremony held two days before at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.

“I have been told by the commissioner it will be better for them if they come forward and we don’t have to hunt them down,” wrote Hodgens, warning that BITS has video of the audience hissing at James.

“They will come to headquarters to be educated why their behavior is unacceptable,” read a separate list of instructions for deputy chiefs.

Elected officials, union leaders and civil rights lawyers immediately ripped the directive as something seen in Communist China, and that it would be unconstitutional and violate free-speech laws.

Pam Bondi, a former special advisor to ex-President Donald Trump, sent Kavanagh a letter Tuesday demanding she end the “political witch hunt.”

The Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute think tank, whose litigation center she now heads, is “prepared” to provide legal aid to FDNY staffers “adversely affected by your unlawful actions,” she warned.

In his Tuesday email, Hodgens now claimed the booing was never the issue.

Instead, “there were allegations of other violations of department regulations” at the ceremony that need resolving, wrote Hodgens, without being specific.

“We are reviewing those accusations and talking to our membership about appropriate behavior,” Hodgens added. “[The event] was in a church in which we were guests. I’d like to remind our members that their behavior matters, both in uniform and not in uniform.”

On Friday, the FDNY would not explain the “other violations” and “accusations.”

The department also refused to say how many firefighters or others at the ceremony, if any, had come forward as requested or been disciplined in any way.

On Friday, the FDNY would not explain the “other violations” and “accusations.”

“FDNY leadership is having ongoing conversations with our members about decorum during department events to ensure we are upholding the core values that make the FDNY the greatest fire department in the world,” said spokeswoman Amanda Farinacci. “Being a NYC firefighter is an honor and we will continue to impress upon our members that their actions impact everyone who wears the uniform.”

She added, “At no point has there been an investigation into members booing,” but did not explain the initial communication warning of just that.

Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Queens), who chairs the committee on fire and emergency management, said she believes the FDNY “pulled back” on the investigation because FDNY leaders are now embarrassed over the outcry.

“Politicians are going to get booed – that’s part of the game,” she said. “The FDNY shouldn’t be in the business of shielding politicians from criticism, and that statement should never have been made in the first place.”

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