FDNY film premiere celebrates legacy of Robert O. Lowery, New York’s first Black Fire Commissioner

April 23, 2024
FDNY Bronx New York Fire fighters

Film premiere highlights the career of Robert O. Lowery

On April 19, 2024, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) premiered a documentary film titled “The First: Fire Commissioner Robert O. Lowery’s Story” at the New York City Fire Museum.

This event, attended by numerous dignitaries including Mayor Eric Adams and Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, showcased the life and significant contributions of Robert O. Lowery, who was the department’s first Black Fire Commissioner.

Significant moments from Lowery’s tenure

The film, a production supported by the FDNY Foundation and the FDNY Pro Film Board, explores Lowery’s influential career from his start in 1941 to his resignation in 1973.

Through interviews with the Lowery family, current FDNY officials, and members of the Vulcan Society—an organization dedicated to the advancement of Black firefighters—the film offers an in-depth look at his leadership and the challenges he tackled.

Impact of Commissioner Lowery on FDNY and beyond

Laura Kavanagh, speaking at the premiere, emphasized Lowery’s forward-thinking approach: “Commissioner Lowery was a pioneer for our Department.

“He identified problems back then that we still face today — in fire investigation, in operations, in communication and technology, and in balancing budgets.”

She highlighted how Lowery developed solutions during one of New York City’s most challenging periods marked by heavy fire duty and racial strife.

FSJA Comment

The premiere of “The First: Fire Commissioner Robert O. Lowery’s Story” serves as a poignant reminder of the strides made within the FDNY and across societal norms regarding race and leadership roles.

Robert O. Lowery’s tenure as Fire Commissioner marked a significant period of growth and challenge for the department and symbolized the breaking of racial barriers in one of the city’s most critical services.

His contributions continue to influence FDNY operations and its community relations, underlining the lasting impact of his leadership on public safety and departmental inclusivity.

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