Seven of 21 new recruits for the Long Beach Fire Department are the sons of firefighters--many of them holding high ranks in the department--raising questions of favoritismin the department and prompting a review by the city manager.
On Tuesday, City Manager James C. Hankla told the City Council that he will review the selection of the recruits and make a timely decision on whether to agree with Fire Chief Chris A. Hunter's choices.
Hunter selected the recruits from a list of 632 applicants who passed written and oral Civil Service exams and a physical agility test. About 5,000 people applied for the positions.
Among those chosen to attend the Fire Academy were the sons of Deputy Chief Rick DuRee, Deputy Chief Anthon (Skip) Beck, Battalion Chief Gary Bradford, a captain, two fire engineers and one retired firefighter.
Hunter acknowledged that if he knows a candidate's family, it can play a role in the selection.
"It obviously helps," Hunter said. "But they're not less qualified than anybody else. If that was the only basis that you give a job, because of their parents, then that would be nepotism, but that was only one factor."
Hankla said he will review Hunter's selections to ensure that proper standards were observed.
The city manager typically delegates the authority to hire employees, Hankla said after the council meeting, but he reviews hiring "when there appears to be an element of controversy."
Hankla emphasized that he doesn't believe there has been a problem of favoritism in the department, in which 26 of the 425 firefighters are related. Those numbers, he said, indicate that nepotism is not rife.
City policy prohibits an official from hiring a relative, but there is no policy against hiring the relatives of other employees, Assistant City Atty. John F. Shirey said.
Councilman Warren Harwood raised the issue of favoritism at the City Council meeting, noting that the odds are poor for coincidentally hiring the sons of firefighters for one-third of the available slots.
"They end up with some 600 and they can choose whomever they want," Harwood said in an interview. "It's like who you know or who you're related to is more important than what you know."
At Harwood's request, the council agreed to ask Hankla, the city attorney's office and the Civil Service Commission for a report on hiring practices in the city. However, council members Ray Grabinski and Doris Topsy-Elvord said they do not object to a third of the new recruits being sons of firefighters because the recruits are qualified and because the selection is left to the fire chief's discretion.
Chief Hunter said the criteria he used were valid. He took into consideration the applicants' ethnicity, their experience, how well they did in interviews, and written recommendations. Hunter said two or three sons of firefighters who were included in the list of finalists were not selected for the recruit class.
The applicants were not ranked. "They're all considered equal," he said.
Until the late 1980s, the city ranked candidates numerically and hired those with the highest scores. Even a fraction of a point could eliminate a candidate. But in an attempt to hire more minorities and women, city officials changed the policy, allowing selection of an applicant who passed the tests but might have scored slightly lower.
Of the department's 425 firefighters, 350 are white, 49 are Latinos, 19 are African-Americans, five are Asian-Americans and two are American Indians, according to Hunter. Four firefighters are women.
Of the 21 in the recruit class, four are women and nine are either black, Latino or Asian-Americans, Hunter said. Two of the firefighters' sons are minorities.
Deputy Chief DuRee, whose 25-year-old son was chosen as a recruit, said he had no role in the selection. "I did not recommend my son. I did not put (Chief Hunter) in that position," DuRee said, declining to identify his son.
DuRee said that if his son makes it through the 11 weeks of training and the one-year probation period, he will become the fourth generation in the family to be a Long Beach firefighter.
"My grandfather was the chief of the Long Beach Fire Department in the '40s. My father was a captain. My son will be a fourth-generation firefighter and a fifth-generation city employee (because) my great-grandfather worked for the city as superintendent of recreation," said DuRee, a 22-year veteran of the department.
It is natural for children to follow in their parents' footsteps, DuRee and other fire officials said.
"Doctors' sons become doctors. Lawyers' sons become lawyers. There's nothing unusual in that," said Bradford, who son was selected as a recruit.
"In order for him to be hired, he had to earn it," said Bradford, a 25-year veteran of the department. "He's getting in because since he's been 16 he set his goals and set about to achieve them."
Bradford said that his 23-year-old son has a fire science degree from Long Beach City College, has worked as an ambulance attendant, a volunteer firefighter for La Habra Heights and is a dispatcher with the Long Beach Fire Department.
"The other side of this is: Should you not hire him because his father is a fireman?" Bradford said.
In the next three years, the department plans to hire 60 to 80 firefighters from the list, Hunter said.