New process for hiring L.A. firefighters wins OK; recruiting to resume

The 58 latest recruits of the Los Angeles Fire Department stand in formation during their graduation ceremony in Panorama City in June.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Members of the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve an overhaul of the rules for hiring city firefighters, restarting a recruitment effort halted in March amid concerns about nepotism and mismanagement.

In a bid to boost the number of women and minorities in the Los Angeles Fire Department’s ranks, a lottery will be used to winnow the pool of candidates seeking coveted slots in three new fire academy classes budgeted this fiscal year.

The changes revamp a hiring process that drew criticism after thousands of candidates for a new 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.

Mayor Eric Garcetti later suspended department hiring, calling its application screening process “fatally flawed.” A city probe is investigating whether LAFD insiders provided an advantage to favored candidates.

Under the new rules, the city would accept firefighter applications online for several days beginning July 22. All of the applicants who meet certain basic qualifications will be entered in a lottery with a limited number of winners selected to move on to a written exam, background check and scored interview.

The drawing will be conducted to ensure the share of women and minorities who advance closely matches the number who apply, according to testimony by officials at the city Personnel Department.

Oversight of the lottery will be provided by outside experts at Rand Corp. and by monitors from the Civil Service Commission and the civilian board that oversees the Fire Department, according to David Luther, the Personnel Department’s interim head.

When Garcetti suspended the program in March he said an overhaul of the process would follow a outside study by Rand experts. But with the $270,000 report still unfinished, city officials have moved forward on their own, an action mayoral aides say is necessary to move fast enough to hire the training class scheduled to begin in December.

The Fire Department has lost several hundred firefighters because of attrition and budget cuts since the economic downturn, adding to the demands on rescuers and prompting complaints from some city and union officials.

The push to open the recruitment process this month quickly drew support from leaders of the union that represents more than 3,000 rank-and-file city firefighters, who have been pressuring city leaders to ramp up hiring.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer,” said Capt. Frank Lima, the union’s president.

Follow Ben Welsh @palewire for more news about LAFD.