LAFD recruiting halted by Mayor Eric Garcetti

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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered an immediate stop today to the recruitment of firefighters, saying he has enlisted Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corp. to overhaul a hiring process that he called “fatally flawed.”
A scheduled fire academy class that was to include about 70 cadets will no longer be held and no more firefighters will be hired from the current civil service list for the next three months as RAND conducts a study of LAFD’s recruitment process, Garcetti said.
“I have determined that the fire department’s recruiting process is fatally flawed,” he said.
Garcetti said he decided to halt the recruitment process after learning that fire department staff were holding special recruiting workshops for department insiders.
“This problem may have been caused before I took office, but as mayor, I’m going to fix it,” Garcetti said.
A professional standards investigation has also been ordered into the recruitment workshops, which were mostly advertised to LAFD cadets and people related to department staff.
Interim Fire Chief James Featherstone said that in working with the mayor’s office on improving its recruitment and hiring practices, the department discovered the “existence of at least two interview and resume preparation workshops organized by a member of the LAFD.”
“These workshops were advertised via LAFD email and were intended to be limited to members of the LAFD Cadet Program and family of LAFD members,” he said.
“While these actions may have been conceived in good faith, the result was a recruiting and hiring process that was less than fair and impartial,” according to Featherstone.
The discovery of the special workshops was also made after an analysis of recruit classes found a high percentage of the recruits consisted of people related to fire department staff. An unusual selection process that required recruits to submit applications within the first minute following the opening of the submissions window period has also come under scrutiny.
Featherstone said during the initial three-month review, RAND will study the department’s recruitment and hiring process and “if necessary,” will suggest “alternative courses of action to manage the pool of applicants who seek firefighter positions, as well as provide recommendations to update and revise the current process, including the written test and oral interview portion of the examination process.”
RAND will stay involved for another year to make “continuous improvements in the new process, including recruiting methods and the selection of new firefighters,” he said.
Hiring should resume under the revamped process within the upcoming 2014- 15 fiscal year, Garcetti said.
RAND was also involved with an overhaul of the Los Angeles Police Department’s hiring practices, documenting the results of the project in a 2009 report.
Garcetti said “the integrity of (the Los Angeles Fire Department’s) recruitment process is vital to ensuring the department responds quickly, is technologically advanced, and reflects the city it serves in the future.”
“Our firefighters perform heroically every day, and I want to make sure that the next generation of firefighters upholds the levels (of) excellence practiced by today’s firefighters,’ he said.
Featherstone said “it’s important to make sure the hiring process is fair and equitable.”
“… I am confident in our ability to keep L.A. safe with our 3,300 current firefighters, who exemplify professionalism and excellence,” he said.
The chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Mitchell Englander, said he supports the mayor’s decision to halt the recruitment process.
“Given that the previous hiring process was contaminated, I fully support the decision to bring in experts to rework the LAFD hiring process such that it reflects the city of Los Angeles and ensures that the most qualified individuals are hired to protect our city and its residents,” Englander said. “In the end, this will only strengthen the fabric of our fire department.”
Frank Lima, the president of the firefighters union, issued a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the mayor’s decision to halt the upcoming recruit training classes, which he says are needed to address staffing shortages.
The department has not hired a new firefighter in five years, Lima said.
“A scarcity of personnel not only puts firefighter and public safety at risk, but it hurts the city’s fiscal health as well,” he said. “Firefighters are being forced to work overtime to make up for the lack of bodies and staffing deficiencies in the department.”
“We want a fair and effective hiring process, but we should proceed with the scheduled training classes while the review is being conducted in order to shore up our Department,” Lima said. “It is a matter of public and firefighter safety.”

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