OTTY 2019 Honoree: Supporting firefighters for a safer city

06 Mar 2019 | 03:56

    As first deputy commissioner of the New York City Fire Department, Laura Kavanagh is responsible for ensuring the department has the resources it needs to maximize the performance and safety of firefighters on the front lines — and, in turn, the well-being of all New Yorkers.

    Kavanagh’s work takes many forms, ranging from public outreach to interagency coordination to pushing for important legislation. But her energy is always directed toward a singular — and singularly worthwhile — goal.

    “Being able to advocate for the men and women of the FDNY is the honor of a lifetime,” she said.

    A New Career Kavanagh joined the FDNY in 2014 after years of experience in political advocacy and campaign consulting, culminating in stints on former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign.

    “I really felt a passion toward the end of that work about coming to government and starting to implement the things that I had spent years advocating for or advising candidates to advocate for,” she said.

    An opening at the FDNY represented “a fantastic opportunity to work for one of the greatest fire departments in the world, and also one of the greatest agencies in the city.”

    Kavanaugh was appointed to her position as the department’s second-highest ranking civilian administrator in January 2018. In that role, she applies many of the same talents she honed running political campaigns. “It was quite a natural fit to use those skills for such a wonderful cause,” she said.

    Kavanagh’s strong relationships, both within the FDNY and elsewhere in city government, have produced real-world results. These include station and equipment upgrades secured through her budgetary work with partners in the City Council, and new technologies that support firefighting operations, which she helped implement with the close collaboration of uniformed chiefs and civilian IT personnel.

    “We’ve been able to advocate for innovative tools that help all of our members in the field,” she said. “We’ve rolled out mobile applications that allow the firefighters on scene to have greater situational awareness.”

    “I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to secure for our members in the budget over the last few years,” she added.

    A Diverse DepartmentKavanagh also oversaw recent firefighter recruitment efforts that resulted in the largest and most diverse pool of applicants in the FDNY’s history. “Our mission was to recruit more women and more people of color than we ever had before, and we went about that in a really strategic and serious way,” she said.

    She is particularly proud of the FDNY’s fire prevention efforts, which include fire safety education events that reach over 700,000 New Yorkers each year, and the Get Alarmed NYC initiative that has resulted in the free installation of 100,000 smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in New Yorkers’ homes. “These things help ensure the safety both of our members and the public,” she said.