L.A. Fire Recruitment Investigation Ordered

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service

The city Fire Commission directed its official watchdog Tuesday to conduct an investigation into the way the Los Angeles Fire Department recruits and hires firefighters.

Commission President Delia Ibarra instructed newly appointed Independent Assessor Sue Stengel to perform an “analysis and audit” of the LAFD’s recruitment and selection process, saying the move was at the direction of the mayor.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has criticized the department for the ethnic and gender make-up of  its mostly white candidate pool.

LAFD also came under fire for turning away thousands of qualified applicants who failed to turn in required paperwork within one minute and for possible nepotism, with 20 percent of the latest class of 70 firefighter recruits being relatives of department employees.

Garcetti said the problems began before he assumed office, but added that he would “fix it.”

“I’ve brought in a new chief, appointed a new commission and now launched this investigation to make sure we reform the department and lower response times,” he said.

Interim Fire Chief James Featherstone and other department staff are also expected to report back to the commission in May on the recruitment process, as well as present a set of short- and long-term changes.

Responding to nepotism allegations, Featherstone noted that LAFD employees are “our biggest recruiters.”

“So we will always have relatives, friends and associates who are part of the greater public safety family,” he said. “What we need to do, though, we need to make sure the opportunity exists for all people to become Los Angeles city firefighters.”

To avoid any appearance of wrongdoing, Featherstone reassigned two battalion chiefs who had sons who were applying to work in with department, LAFD spokesman Peter Sanders said.

“There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of either battalion chief,” Sanders said.

The chiefs were moved out of the recruitment and training section, one to the planning section and the other out into the field as a battalion chief, he said.

The reassignments took place not long after Featherstone’s appointment as chief in November, he said.

During Tuesday’s Fire Commission meeting, Ibarra also addressed the long-anticipated report released Monday that recommended comprehensive changes to the management of the fire department.

“It contained some wide-ranging recommendations,” she said. “Some of them will be controversial. Some of them are common sense.”

The report by PA Consulting, which was hired to review the deployment of LAFD resources after concerns arose about the department’s reporting of response times, found that the department suffers from a “cultural aversion to change and fear of litigation” and called for management of the department to be streamlined.

It recommended that the agency be divided into four geographic bureaus, its “cumbersome” disciplinary process overhauled and a five-year employment contract be given to the fire chief.

The report also recommends filling nearly 200 positions with civilian employees instead of sworn LAFD personnel.

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March 6, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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