The only woman selected for a controversial class of Los Angeles Fire Department recruits has resigned in the latest setback to a decades-long effort to increase the number of women in the department's ranks.
Erica Juergens was among 70 recruits picked to enter training at the LAFD's Panorama City drill tower in January. On Monday she resigned, citing personal reasons.
"I didn't feel like it was ultimately the job for me," Juergens said in an interview Wednesday. "But I was very welcomed and offered support and encouragement along the way."
The fire department has struggled to overcome a legacy of discrimination and bias complaints that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal payouts in recent years. About half of all uniformed employees are white, while the city is 29% white. And despite repeated efforts at reform, the percentage of female firefighters remains at just under 3% — the same as in 1995.
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said his office was not aware of the reasons for Juergens' resignation. But her departure underscores the importance of hiring and retaining qualified female firefighter candidates, Yusef Robb said.
"We can debate what percentage of female recruits is possible, but 0% is absolutely unacceptable," Robb said.
When Juergens' class was announced, Garcetti criticized its makeup, which was 60% white and included only one woman. The mayor said it failed to make progress toward a goal of having the LAFD be more representative of the city.
Among other things, internal emails show dozens of department officials were alerted to information that could give their relatives an advantage in submitting key paperwork to personnel officials. In the end, nearly 25% of a class of recruits who began their training earlier this year were related to LAFD firefighters.
The mayor halted hiring for subsequent classes from the current candidate pool. Recruits already in training continued to prepare. Those who complete the fire academy are expected to be in the field later this year.
The city has asked Rand Corp. to help overhaul firefighter screening and hiring procedures, as well as examine the practices of the training academy.
"We want to make sure we hire the most qualified firefighter candidates possible and maximize their chances of success," Robb said.
A spokesman for the LAFD said Wednesday that the agency had not studied retention of female firefighters and declined to comment on Juergens' resignation.
"The Los Angeles Fire Department's training academy is both rigorous and intense," said spokesman Peter Sanders. "Regrettably, some recruits are unable to complete the training and leave the academy prior to graduation. As these are personnel matters, the department will have no further comment."