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More than 10,000 rush to apply in rebooted LAFD hiring drive

Los Angeles Fire DepartmentSocial Issues
More than 10,000 candidates applied last week to join the LAFD
The new applicant pool at the LAFD closely mirrors those of the past
New LAFD hiring effort includes changes intended to increase diversity

More than 10,000 applicants are seeking to join the ranks of the Los Angeles Fire Department, according to data released Monday, as the city rushes to reboot a hiring process halted earlier this year amid concerns of nepotism and mismanagement.

A flood of applications poured into the city Personnel Department even though the new hiring process was only approved less than three weeks ago, and the window to apply was open for just a few days last week.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city leaders have set a goal of increasing the number of women and minorities in the LAFD ranks, but the makeup of the new applicant pool closely mirrors those of the past.

Only 5% of the 10,180 applicants are female, roughly the same as at the start of the last hiring round, when a call for applicants drew more than 13,000 candidates, records show.

The share of African Americans declined from 15% in the last round to only 10% in the new pool. The number of Latinos — the largest ethnic group in the city of Los Angeles — increased slightly, from 31% to 35%. The number of whites declined from 43% to 37%.

The percentage of applicants who did not list an ethnicity was also on the rise, with nearly 8% of candidates declining to answer the question. 

The call for applications marks the restart of a hiring process that drew criticism after thousands of candidates for a class hired earlier this year were excluded because some of their paperwork wasn't received in the first 60 seconds of a filing period. Many applicants said they had no idea mere seconds would be such a critical factor in determining which candidates would advance.

The Times also reported that internal LAFD emails showed a department captain alerted dozens of fire officials that applicants' paperwork needed to arrive in the first minutes if they were to have a chance. Another email discussed a coaching session to be held at a city fire station for relatives of LAFD members.

Nearly 25% of the 70 recruits eventually hired were related to LAFD firefighters, and the group's makeup was overwhelmingly white and included only one woman.

Garcetti later suspended department hiring, calling its application screening process "fatally flawed." 

Under the new system, a lottery will be conducted Monday to winnow down to 300 the pool of candidates who will move on to compete for the first 60 openings in three new fire academy classes budgeted this fiscal year, according to Gloria Sosa, an assistant general manager at the Personnel Department.

As part of new changes, the drawing is being designed to ensure the share of women and minorities who advance closely matches the number who applied, officials said. Those who are selected will move on to a written exam, background check and scored interview.

The department, which has 3,200 personnel, has diversified its ranks over the last two decades. But the agency is still 50% white, 31% Latino, 12% black and 7% Asian. Los Angeles is 29% white, 49% Latino, 11% Asian and 10% black, according to the Census Bureau.

With past scandals involving firefighter attitudes toward female recruits, the ratio of women in the uniformed ranks remains at just under 3%the same as in 1995.

The Fire Department has lost several hundred firefighters because of attrition and budget cuts since the economic downturn, which mayoral aides say intensified the push to restart hiring quickly.

“We have a pressing need to hire firefighters and are confident this applicant pool will enable us to hire a highly qualified class of future firefighters,” said Vicki Curry, a spokeswoman for Garcetti. “We will continue reforming the recruitment process as we strive for a Fire Department that better reflects the city it serves.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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