On Jan. 1, 1984, Firefighter Robert Turner II ran from his home into the frigid winter night without his shoes. The barefoot bravest did as he had been trained. He ran into the flames of a burning home in Flushing. Without any protective gear and acting on his own, Turner rescued three people from the fire and attempted to rescue a fourth. As a result of the fire, he suffered severe burns on his arms and a year later was honored with the Brooklyn Citizens Medal for his bravery.
Now Turner, who has been a member of the FDNY for 36 years, will be one of the ones handing out the awards.
On Tuesday, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro appointed Turner, 57, who lives in Flushing and has since risen to the rank of battalion chief, to the position of first deputy commissioner, the second-highest civilian title in the FDNY.
As first deputy commissioner, he is charged with managing the day-to-day operations and activities of the FDNY across all offices and bureaus.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Bob Turner since he was a young lieutenant in Manhattan more than 20 years ago,” Nigro, who is also from Queens, said in a statement. “For more than three decades he’s been an outstanding firefighter and a strong leader, and he’s exactly the person I need to work with me in further strengthening and improving the department so that we can do an even better job protecting and serving our city.”
Turner began his career in 1978, first assigned to Engine 222 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and later Ladder 175 in East New York, Brooklyn. In 1986, he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Engine 1 in Midtown Manhattan. Following his promotion to captain in 1992, he returned to Bedford-Stuyvesant to lead Engine Company 214. In 1999, he was promoted to battalion chief and assigned to Battalion 46 in Elmhurst.
In his career, Turner responded to some of the city’s worst disasters, including the Sept. 11 attacks. Just a few months before that incident, he responded to the deadly Fathers Day fire in Astoria in which three firefighters, Harry Ford, John Downing and Brian Fahey, were all killed.
Most recently, Turner served as the director of the First Line Supervisor Training Program, overseeing the training of all newly promoted FDNY lieutenants, as well as fire officers throughout the state. In addition, Commissioner Turner is a graduate of the FDNY Officers Management Institute, and has received advanced leadership training from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School.
Turner holds a bachelors degree in public administration from John Jay College, where he also served as an adjunct instructor teaching courses on emergency action plans and training fire safety directors.
Born in Brooklyn, Turner was raised in Queens. He has a wife, Tamara, and his father, Robert R. Turner, was also a member of the FDNY, reaching the rank of Battalion Chief serving the department for 41 years.
Turner will be one of the highest ranking African-Americans to ever serve the department, but not the highest. That honor belongs to Robert O. Lowery, who was FDNY commissioner from 1966 to 1973 in John Lindsay’s administration, and Augustus A. Beekman, who was commissioner from 1978 to 1980, under Mayor Koch.
This article originally did not mention Augustus A. Beekman. We regret the error.