L.A. County team of monitors to oversee Fire Department hiring

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 06 November 2014 | 12.56

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday created a "strike team" of monitors to oversee hiring by the Los Angeles County Fire Department in response to a Times investigation that found a disproportionate number of relatives in the ranks and evidence of cheating in recruitment.

The supervisors' action will dramatically expand the role of outsiders in the department's hiring procedures, along the lines of reforms that Fire Chief Daryl Osby proposed in the wake of The Times' disclosures.

"We must ensure that all eligible candidates receive equal employment opportunity," Supervisor Gloria Molina said in the motion that led to Wednesday's unanimous vote, which requires the monitoring team to report weekly to the board.

Molina later said in a statement that the team would act as a "watchdog" over department recruitment. "I want a hiring process that is transparent, has integrity, and urgency," she said.

Last week, she called for stripping the Fire Department of its hiring authority entirely, but her colleagues said they were reluctant to go that far. As a compromise, the monitoring team won the backing of the full board as well as Osby and the firefighters' labor union.

The Times reported on Oct. 26 that the department's hiring, which is supposed to be based on merit, favored sons of firefighters. At least 183 sons of current or former firefighters and 187 other relatives have served in the department since the start of 2012, according to an analysis of payroll, pension, birth, marriage and other records.

In addition, The Times found evidence that insiders have tried to manipulate hiring. Lists of questions and suggested answers for formal applicant interviews have circulated freely through the department's station houses, even though they are supposed to be kept under lock and key. The interviews determine whether and when applicants win a spot in the fire academy.

As a result of The Times' report, county investigators are searching five years of department emails to identify any employees who might have shared the confidential interview material with relatives or other people seeking firefighting jobs, which are prized for their six-figure salaries and generous benefits.

The monitoring team will include officials from the County Equity Oversight Panel, which is made up of employment law experts; the county Human Resources Department; the County Counsel's Office; and representatives of the Fire Department and the union, Local 1014 of the International Assn. of Firefighters.

Molina said she decided not to push for a complete takeover of firefighter hiring by the county personnel office after Osby assured her that he was overhauling recruitment to guard against nepotism and cheating. She added that she wanted to act quickly because the department needed to fill 200 positions.

Osby told the board that the revamped examination of applicants "will be fair, it will be equitable, it will be accountable."

He said last week that the written test for applicants would no longer be a pass-fail exam; at least a portion of it would be competitively scored, and grading would be done outside the department. He said those changes would help the agency identify the best candidates.

The chief also has said that he wants to scrap a department lottery that might have kept some of the most qualified applicants from being selected to take the test.

In expressing his support for the monitoring team, Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte told the supervisors that he was "extremely proud to be part of one of the most brilliant and best fire departments in the world."

The department is one of the largest local fire agencies in the nation, with 2,750 firefighters, and draws applicants from across Southern California and beyond. Recruits can make more than $100,000 annually within a few years. After retirement, the firefighters receive yearly pension and health benefits that average more than $130,000, The Times found.

Since 2007, more than 12,600 people have applied to the department. About 740 were hired. That's 1 in 17 — a rejection rate of nearly 95%. If sons were hired at the same rate as other applicants, more than 3,000 of them — an improbably high number — would have had to apply to account for the 183 that The Times' analysis found in the ranks.

Osby and other department officials have said that sons could have a special motivation to work hard to follow in their fathers' footsteps. But they have acknowledged that sons and other relatives should have no practical advantage over applicants without family ties.

During the hiring regimen, the department does not test candidates for firefighting skills they could have learned from relatives, such as deploying hoses and ladders, the officials said. Those are taught in the academy.



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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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