Report calls for another overhaul in hiring of LAFD firefighters

New city study calls for another overhaul in LAFD hiring

The controversial process for hiring firefighters at the Los Angeles Fire Department needs another overhaul, according to a new study released Thursday.

The 150-page report, prepared for the city by experts at the Rand Corp., features a series of proposals to fix a hiring system Mayor Eric Garcetti rebooted last year amid concerns of nepotism and mismanagement.

City officials should step up spending on the recruitment of qualified women and minorities and develop new ways of ranking candidates to winnow the pool of thousands of applicants seeking coveted firefighting jobs, according to the report.

"Improving the diversity of the LAFD will require a long-term and carefully targeted outreach and recruiting campaign," the report said, singling out female athletes and minority valedictorians at local high schools for increased attention.

Last March, the mayor halted LAFD hiring after The Times reported that thousands of candidates were excluded because their paperwork wasn't received in the first 60 seconds of a filing period. Many applicants said they had no idea mere seconds would determine which candidates would advance.

Nearly one-third of the 70 recruits eventually hired in that round were related to LAFD firefighters, and the group's makeup was overwhelmingly white. It included only one woman, who later dropped out.

When he suspended hiring, Garcetti ordered up the $270,000 Rand report, saying it would chart the course to reform. But when the City Council funded three new recruit classes this fiscal year, Garcetti backed a hasty retooling of hiring procedures that included a lottery to narrow down candidates from a group of 10,000 applicants.

Thursday's report suggested that if city officials keep the lottery they should introduce an electronic background check and other screenings before the drawing to prevent unqualified candidates from advancing.

"In the long run it would ideal if they could put in merit-based screening tools instead of the lottery," said Chaitra Hardison, the report's lead author. 

Other recommendations include outsourcing the written test now designed by the city Personnel Department, streamlining the interview and selection process that follows and adding a system for rejected applicants to appeal.

The first class of 43 recruits hired using the lottery started training at the LAFD’s drill tower in Panorama City last month. While slightly more diverse than the previous class, it included only four women and will do little to change the agency’s overall makeup.

The Fire Department has struggled to overcome a history of alleged racial and sexual discrimination that has included millions of dollars in payouts to those who filed legal claims against the city.

The LAFD rank and file has become more racially diverse in recent decades, but about half of the roughly 3,200 uniformed LAFD employees are white in a city that’s half Latino. And despite repeated calls for reform, the percentage of female firefighters remains at slightly less than 3% — the same as in 1995.

That includes positions dedicated to fighting fires within the city limits, as well as handling 911 calls, enforcing the fire code and responding to the medical emergencies that have become the bulk of the department's work.

"Mayor Garcetti is committed to a reform agenda for the Fire Department that lowers response times, modernizes operations and ensures we have the best possible recruits," said spokesman Yusef Robb. "We will closely review this report."

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas has not yet reviewed the report but aims to "refine" the hiring process going forward, according to Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the agency.

For the latest from LAFD headquarters, follow @palewire.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

11:44 a.m.: Added quote from the report's lead author

10:56 a.m.: Added explanation of the scope of firefighting work.

10:18 a.m.: Added statement from mayoral spokesman Yusef Robb.

9:35 a.m.: This post has been updated with a reponse from the LAFD.

This post was originally published at 8:42 a.m. 

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