By CHRISTELL CHERENFANT
Brooklyn College was the scene on Thursday of firefighters climbing the ladder – of success.
This occurred in the Whitman Theater where 76 members of the Fire Department attended a ceremony in which they were promoted to various ranks, including lieutenant, captain, fire marshal and supervising fire marshal.
Family and friends scrambled to find seats.
“It never starts on time, it’s the Fire Department,” said 27-year veteran firefighter, Philip J. Pillet who was one of the 76 men getting promoted to a higher rank.
“Nobody in this department gets here by themselves,” said the Chief of Department, James E. Leonard from the stage, adding that as captain he was able to motivate others by his force of character. “There is always healthy competition going on in the fire house,” he said.
Leonard said that all of the men have earned their promotion because of all of their hard work. “We don’t give anything away,” he said.
Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro reported that 1.7 million emergencies were responded to this year. “These men are part of a lifesaving mission,” he said.
However, no women and few minority members scaled the promotion ladder at the event, highlighting the past lack of diversity in the ranks. This lack has sparked much controversy.
Although they weren’t present, Nigro briefly spoke about the 300 new probationary firefighters hired recently, among whom five were women.
But the department has made strides recently in this area. Nigro said recently that 40 percent of new firefighters belonged to minority groups and three women, bringing the total to 52 women.
Former Fire Marshall, Owen P. Williams, who was promoted to a Supervising Fire Marshall was excited about moving up the ladder. “I had the opportunity a long time ago but I was part of the reserves,” Williams said. “… I wasn’t able to study as much as I wanted to.”
Williams was one of the two African Americans promoted.
He was a Fire Marshall for 15 years and in the 90’s, when he first started out in the department, there were 200 people in his class and only two of them were black. Williams said that now, there are a lot more minorities coming in because of the Emergency Medical Services and because the department was reaching out to them.
Photo by Christell Cherenfant