One in five recruits in a new Los Angeles Fire Department training class are related to firefighters working at the agency, according to figures released Thursday evening.
Of the 70 recruits hired for the class now in training, 13 are sons of firefighters and three are nephews, according to figures provided to The Times by the department.
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said an investigation was being launched to determine how 22% of the positions went to relatives of LAFD members.
"We are going to get to the bottom of this," spokesman Yusef Robb said. "This needs to be fully investigated."
The Times reported Thursday that thousands of firefighter candidates were disqualified last April from being considered because they failed to submit a key piece of paperwork in a 60-second period.
Applicants who passed a written exam were told that they could submit certificates showing they completed a physical fitness test starting at 8 a.m. April 22. After a crush of thousands of certificates poured in, Personnel Department managers said they decided to winnow down their review of potential recruits to those who had filed the form in the first minute.
The screening process is drawing fire from candidates who said they were unfairly passed over and from city officials, including interim LAFD Chief James G. Featherstone.
"This recruitment process was in place prior to the current chief's arrival and is wholly unacceptable to him," said Featherstone's spokesman, Peter Sanders.
Critics and applicants who didn't submit their physical exam records quickly enough said qualified people, including some with paramedic and firefighting experience, were arbitrarily and unfairly passed over.
Capt. Frank Lima, president of the union representing Los Angeles firefighters, faulted personnel officials for overseeing a process that he said failed to give every candidate an equal opportunity at landing a job. "The Personnel Department is largely to blame," he said.
Personnel Department managers have defended the process, saying it was in line with past hiring practices and ensured an impartial selection.
Earlier Thursday, Featherstone said he was personally working with the Personnel Department to overhaul the recruit screening process. "It just didn't look right," he said. "It just didn't make sense to me."
The chief's comments came during a wide-ranging discussion of the agency with Times' editors and reporters that included Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mitchell Englander, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. The officials outlined a range of department reforms and innovations they say are needed, including getting firefighters to medical emergencies quicker, improving use of technology and data analyses, and merging two separate 911 call centers operated by the fire and police departments.
The mayor reiterated concerns about the LAFD hiring process, saying more must be done to boost the percentage of female firefighters, which for decades has remained at just under 3%.
Referring to a new class of recruits that included just one woman — proportionally less than 1.5% — the mayor said, "Don't tell me we can't get 3%." A steady, concerted campaign will be required to encourage women to apply, he said. "Who would want to be a woman on this department when the numbers are so low?"
More than 250 women passed the March written exam, city records show. Only 21 remained after the 60-second cutoff of paperwork in April, and advanced to LAFD interviews. Only one was selected for the new training class, which is 60% white.
Richard Rodriguez said he was working as a paramedic for a private ambulance service in Riverside County on April 22 and prepared to send his physical fitness certification via email from a computer. But shortly before 8 a.m., he said, he had to respond to an emergency medical call and didn't return until about an hour later. He submitted his exam, but it was too late.
"I've tried to do everything to perfect myself for the job," Rodriguez, 25, said Thursday. "It was a total bummer."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times