FDNY names HQ auditorium after former commissioner

Former FDNY Commissioner Robert O. Lowery joined the FDNY in 1941 and became the first Black fire commissioner of any major fire department in the United States.

News 12 Staff

Feb 27, 2023, 10:28 PM

Updated 456 days ago

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The FDNY honored the late former commissioner Robert O. Lowery with a special dedication in its headquarters.  
Lowery was a trailblazer among members of the FDNY. He was pivotal in social justice and the desegregation of the fire system and known for his bravery and leadership.  
The FDNY named the headquarters auditorium after Lowery. He was the first African American commissioner of a major fire department in the United States.  
“This room is not simply an auditorium,” said FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh. “It’s where our FDNY family gathers to celebrate accomplishments, as well as to celebrate and learn about our diverse and rich cultures among our members.” 
Lowery joined the FDNY in 1941, rising through the ranks as a firefighter and the first African American fire marshal in FDNY history before becoming commissioner in 1956. He worked at diversifying the FDNY during a period of fires that Kavanaugh refers to as the "war years."
“It’s important to note how difficult that journey was for him,” said Kavanaugh. “When he joined the FDNY, firehouses were still segregated, and he faced open hostility and discrimination as he rose through the ranks.” 
Lowery’s daughter, Gertrude Irwin, spoke about when she joined her father in the march on Washington with fellow FDNY members.  
“I was on a bus with all the firemen, and it was very important for them to be there at that time, to protest for better conditions for people of color in America,” said Irwin.  
Lowery’s coat now hangs above the walls by the entrance of the auditorium, serving as a reminder of the fortitude and bravery he put forth while serving New York City.  


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