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    Default Firefighter exam results under fire

    Stamford firefighter exam results under fire

    By Donna Porstner
    Staff Writer
    The Advocate

    December 21, 2005

    STAMFORD -- The city dropped the passing score on the recent firefighter exam 10 points below the testing company's recommendation to ensure minorities would make it to the hiring list. But instead of using that flexibility to hire more blacks and Hispanics, officials hired their friends and relatives, top scorers on the exam say.

    Applicants had to score at least a 37 -- or 47 percent of the questions right -- to pass the Aug. 6 exam.

    The testing company, Firefighter Selection Inc. of Folsom, Calif., advised the city that applicants should answer at least 60 percent of the questions correctly to pass, but Director of Human Resources Dennis Murphy said he decided not to follow the recommendation because it would have prevented the city from hiring most of the blacks and Hispanics who took the test.

    "I refused to use it because the racial impact was disparate," Murphy said.

    By dropping the passing score to 37, the city more than tripled the number of minorities eligible for hire.

    Of the 278 applicants who took the test, five minorities scored 47 or higher -- four Hispanic men and one black man. When the passing score was lowered, 16 minorities became eligible -- seven black men, seven Hispanic men, one white woman and one man who identified his background as "other."

    But since their scores put them at the bottom of the list, they won't be eligible for hire until the final two years. In the meantime, the department has vacancies to fill.

    In the four job offers extended to date, the commission made no distinction between applicants who scored in the 70s and 80s and those who scored in the 50s or 60s. One scored an 82 -- the second highest -- and the others scored 80, 60 and 58.

    Two of the four job offers were made to sons of Stamford Fire & Rescue firefighters. The mayor's nephew, Brien Malloy, Fire Chief Robert McGrath's son, Michael McGrath, and Fire Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan's son, Christopher Brennan, were among the eight alternates.

    One of the new hires -- Scott Avalos, son of Fire Capt. William Avalos -- and alternates Christopher Brennan and Michael McGrath were in the third rank, meaning they were in the group that had the lowest scores of the 120 candidates eligible to be hired.

    James Romaniello of Stamford, son of Fire Capt. James Romaniello, scored an 82, the second-highest mark on the test, and was hired.

    Some white men who scored high enough to make it to the top of the hiring list but were not offered jobs said they are outraged. Three white men spoke on the condition that their names would not be used. As one applicant put it, "it would be career suicide" to speak out because they would never get hired.

    The men, who were in the first rank for having the top 15 scores, said they left their interviews with the impression that the new hires were predetermined.

    All three said they knew they didn't have a shot at a job when they walked into the interview and the commissioners seemed uninterested. Each said they were in the room for no more than two or three minutes and were not asked personal questions.

    One applicant said he was surprised that all the commissioners asked him was to verify his address and employer, which the Human Resources Department could have done over the telephone.

    "I even sat with an interview coach a week before, and when I heard that, I almost fell out of my chair," the applicant said.

    It was crushing to learn that political connections and ethnicity mattered more than their knowledge of firefighting, they said. For many applicants who grew up in the city, becoming a Stamford Fire & Rescue firefighter is a lifelong dream.

    "All of those guys who got hired have some political connection somehow, some way. So unless you know someone, you're not getting a job -- unless you're a minority," one applicant said.

    If that's how Stamford picks its firefighters, another applicant said, he doesn't want to work for the city.

    "Honestly, I don't even want to work downtown any more," he said. "If they called me, I don't even know how I would respond."

    Fire Commission Chairman Richard Lyons would not say what questions the commissioners asked during the interviews.

    "They all had the same opportunity. They were all asked the same questions," he said. "They know what the question was."

    Lyons said no one has filed a formal complaint or made allegations of favoritism to him directly.

    "I haven't spoken to anyone who brought up those questions. No one has called me to complain. I'm just telling you it didn't happen," he said.

    Yesterday, he declined to talk about how the new hires were chosen, but in a previous interview he said the commission emphasized the interview.

    "The discussions on the hires were held in executive session, so I am not going to go into detail about the individuals and how they were hired," he said. "All I am going to say is that we used the process we have for 10 years."

    The only difference, Lyons said, was that there were 120 candidates this time, compared with 40 during the last firefighter test in 2002.

    "And that wasn't our doing," Lyons said. "That was done by HR."

    Murphy said they changed the hiring process to allow the Fire Commission to interview all 120 candidates in the first wave because of "strong perceived unfairness" three years ago. Applicants complained because their section of the hiring list expired before they had a chance to be interviewed. Meanwhile, applicants in the second wave who scored lower were hired.

    Although all applicants for city jobs are asked to disclose their race, it does not affect their chance of getting hired, Murphy said.

    Being white didn't work against firefighter candidates, Murphy said.

    But white candidates want to know why they were photographed on their way into the Fire Commission interview in November.

    One applicant who made it to the top of the hiring list but was not offered a job questioned why they were photographed holding a card with a number on it. He was told it was to help the commissioners match names with faces after 120 interviews in two days.

    Murphy and Lyons said they did not know photographs were taken.

    Once the test results are in and the list is certified, hiring is in the hands of the Fire Commission, Murphy said.

    "All we do in HR is certify to the commission those folks who we deem eligible for appointment based on the Charter and policies we have here," Murphy said. "Who is hired is up to the commission."

    Lyons said the Fire Commission had nothing to do with the photographs.

    "We did not ask for it and we did not order it. Maybe Human Resources ordered it or the department did. I don't know," he said.

    Lyons said he does not know what the photographs would be used for.

    One of the applicants who believes he didn't get a fair opportunity questioned how the city could hire firefighters who didn't do well on an exam for which all of the answers are in the study guide.

    "If these people aren't dedicated enough to crack open a book for two months, what makes you think they're dedicated enough to run into a burning building?" he said.

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    Scoring high on the test doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll be hired. If you can score a 100 on exam, does that mean you're intelligent, not really.

    It means you can read, write, and spell. It also means that you'll be the first to be interviewed, that's it, bottom line. There are other contributing factors that allow you not to be hired.

    Were the cadidates 1-3 minutes late for the interview? Did they shave for the interview? Did they wear jeans to the interview? Did they use a profantity word during their interview? Did they give the notion that they could perhaps be a little sexist or racist during the interview? Did they appear to be cocky during the interview?

    The list goes on and on...

    It's also been my experience that the #1 test scorer, doesn't always have all of the necessarly qualifications that are required for hiring ie: (medic licenses, college degree, FFI or FFII, G.E.D or high school diploma, etc.)

    If you didn't get the job, you didn't get the job, quit your complaining.

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    "Two of the four job offers were made to sons of Stamford Fire & Rescue firefighters. The mayor's nephew, Brien Malloy, Fire Chief Robert McGrath's son, Michael McGrath, and Fire Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan's son, Christopher Brennan, were among the eight alternates.

    One of the new hires -- Scott Avalos, son of Fire Capt. William Avalos -- and alternates Christopher Brennan and Michael McGrath were in the third rank, meaning they were in the group that had the lowest scores of the 120 candidates eligible to be hired.

    James Romaniello of Stamford, son of Fire Capt. James Romaniello, scored an 82, the second-highest mark on the test, and was hired."



    SmokeNPhyer
    You don't think that the above part of the article adds a little suspicion to their hiring procedures? Some candidates aren't best suited for the position, but that doesn't mean their family automatically is best suited. This type of hiring in the fire service needs to stop. It is giving a bad name to firefighters like these and all human resource personnel. As a human resource official I don't know how they allow this to go on. They are asking to get sued. They should abolish the list and start over. Yes, it will cost money, but it is the right thing to do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by smokeNphyer
    Were the cadidates 1-3 minutes late for the interview? Did they shave for the interview? Did they wear jeans to the interview? Did they use a profantity word during their interview? Did they give them notion that they could perhaps be a little sexist or racist during the interview? Did they appear to be cocky during the interview?
    I believe the oral part of the process should be eliminated. Since it is subjective.

    There should be a written exam, a physical exam and the list established. The candidates will be indentified by some type of anonymous method.

    If the top 50 candidates just happen to be white males, so be it. But at least all candidates know they have a chance to be successful in the hiring process and won't have to worry about any of the idiosyncracies you identified that might occur in an oral interview.
    Politics is like driving. To go forward select "D", to go backward select "R."

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    Default Stamford CT Firefighter exam results under fire

    I am kind of biased because I was in the top percentile on this test. I knew something was fishy but when I sat down at my desk this morning and opened the paper and read the article my suspicions were confirmed. Is anyone surprised by this? Connecticut has been doing this for years. I guess Stamford will join New Haven and Bridgeport as cities with lawsuits pending against their unfair hires. This is a disgrace. One pays $30 for the written test, $75 for the CPAT, and it turns out to be fixed. It just doesn't seem fair to the guy who busts his a** to study, do well, and then get screwed by them hiring the FD Chief's son who had one of the lowest scores on the test. Everybody denies it- but these guys have jobs and I don't. The question I pose is when do we as firefighters stop becoming interested in trying to get a job at these types of departments just because we want to fulfill the dream of becoming a career firefighter?
    At least the volunteers don't discriminate.
    Hopfully Norwich is on the up and up??????

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    I'd like to start off by saying that the oral interview should not be dropped off the list.

    There's alot of variables that are seen in the oral. Face the facts, if you dress like a bum to the interview, 9 out of 10 chief's wouldn't hire you. If you don't care about your personal appearance, as a chief, why would I think you would care anymore about the departments appearance.

    For those guys that are chief's kids, they have a HUGE advantage before the test even started. They've been around the department alot longer. Their character has already been proven, that they aren't going to be a problem for the department.

    Not to mention, put them up against the average joe on general knowledge of the fire service, they'd probably win hands down.

    Let's see...I can hire Joe, with no experience and I don't know what kind of bs he could bring to the department, or I can go with the Chief's kid who I know alot more about.

    Not every Chief's kid wants to be a firefighter either. My Chief's kid won't come near the station and has absolutly no desire to be a FF.

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    Where does that leave the rest of us who score higher, are professional, and don't have daddy's who are firefighters? Obviously the chief's son didn't score well enough on the test to warrant his position and why assume that someone "outside the department" is a liability? In fact I also scored higher than the mayor's nephew as well. Do you think that the mayor's nephew is a well known guy around the department who has been there for years? If you want to hire the chief's son from the start- do me a favor just hire him and don't waste MY time or money on a HOPELESS dream.

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    I agree with whaler. If someone is all the negatives you assume by not interviewing him (or her), they can be washed out in the probationary period.

    Secondly. I have seen some of the scions get jobs who weren't exactly 'balls of fire' because they knew the right people.

    Your scenario has just as many potential negatives as mine.
    Politics is like driving. To go forward select "D", to go backward select "R."

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    I am so very disappointed to read an article such as this. I believe that people are honest and those who work hard prevail. This really disappoints me.

    I can understand your frustration, but here's my advice. CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. Don't waste energy on something that is only going to frustrate you.

    I scored #1 at Inglewood and was passed over when they hired 7 people and I scored #5 at Chula Vista and was passed over.

    Looking back on it I am so grateful the way things worked out.

    Lastly, if a department is so blatent in their hiring practices, imagine how they would be with their promotional process. Count your blessings and move on.

    Smoknphyr wrote:
    "For those guys that are chief's kids, they have a HUGE advantage before the test even started. They've been around the department alot longer. Their character has already been proven, that they aren't going to be a problem for the department.

    Not to mention, put them up against the average joe on general knowledge of the fire service, they'd probably win hands down.

    Let's see...I can hire Joe, with no experience and I don't know what kind of bs he could bring to the department, or I can go with the Chief's kid who I know alot more about."

    I completely disagree with hiring Chief's kids. I am a Chief and I would not want my kid hired because of MY acccomplishments. If you are a firefighter's kid and you wave it in my face in an interview I will score you lower.

    I have a great deal of interaction with people seeking entry-level positions. It really bothers me to see a firefighter's kid who believes that he is entitled to a job. In their mind it's a right of passage. Some of the most incredible entry-level candidates I have come across are firefighter's kids. Some of the most illprepared, clueless candidates are firefighter's kids.

    I recently ran into a candidate who has several relatives on my job. He was volunteering his time to get noticed for a round of upcoming hiring. When I ran into his relative the next day I mentioned the encounter. When I asked the firefighter if his sibling was enrolled in fire science courses, he was too busy for that SH*T because he worked a full-time job.

    This firefighter was hired because of his relative's reputation. He now believed that the next relative was entitled a position.

    This is completely unfair to the men and women who have worked hard and EARNED a job. If a firefighter's kid works hard, scores well on the exam and is mature enough for the position, then and only then should he or she be considered for the position.

    Paul Lepore
    Battalion Chief
    Last edited by BCLepore; 12-22-2005 at 09:39 PM.

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    If you can score a 100 on exam, does that mean you're intelligent, not really.
    It means you can read, write, and spell.
    My posts reflect my views and opinions, not the organization I work for or my IAFF local. Some of which they may not agree. I.A.C.O.J. member
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    Quote Originally Posted by SPFDRum
    I second that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by smokeNphyer
    Scoring high on the test doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll be hired. If you can score a 100 on exam, does that mean you're intelligent, not really.
    I have to agree. If this is not indicative of intelligence, then what is?

    You justify hiring lesser candidates because they did nothing more than choose the right parents.
    Politics is like driving. To go forward select "D", to go backward select "R."

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    I guess what fustrates me most, if that this practice happens in every industry. People get passed over for jobs all the time.

    I won't necessarily retract any of my statements, but like the BC said, you can only control certain things.

    Take it with a grain of salt. If you're really THAT upset about spending 75 bucks to get a great job which didn't work out, you really don't belong in this service.

    I sympathize with your situation and I can honestly say that it would bother me a little bit. However, I'd move on and test with another department. It pays to do a little research about the department that you apply with.

    There are certain departments in my area that I haven't and won't test with. I've stopped by their department and just let them know that I was considering testing with them. Most of the time they'll let me look around and bs with the crew that's on shift that day. I'll even go to the extent of looking at their annual report to see how many calls they run, what shift or station runs the most, etc.

    This may be something that you want to do before you apply with another department.

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    SMOKENYPHER: where are you coming from with those statements? Getting a 100 on a test doesn't show imtelligence? Of course it does-unintelligent people do not score 100's. Competency as a FF? No, probably not. And what does being a chief's son have to do with character? Character is built, not a title bestowed upon you because your father is a chief. Please help me understand as I scored a 100 on a writtrn test and am obviously not intelligent.

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    Thumbs down

    I was also in the top rank for Stamford. I would like to move on, as stated in your post SmokeNPhyer, and I will, but it seems that more and more departments are like this. You don't understand that most departments in CT don't even tell you what you scored. The reason that Stamford has become an issue is because they are one of the few departments in the state which actually disclosed applicants test scores. They got caught because people knew they got screwed, because they had the knowledge that they scored higher than the people who got hired. Most departments in CT won't tell you what you scored which then leaves the option of hiring ANYONE they want and no one can do a damn thing about it.

    You can't prove what isn't public knowledge. If you call civil service they say they can not disclose that information. I took one police officer test in CT and all the information regarding scores and hiring was made public as soon as it was available. What is with all the secrets when it comes to fire tests???? It certainly makes me wonder and pretty much assume that they are doing whatever they want for whoever they want which sucks for the rest of us.

    When you take a firefighter test in CT, the first thing all the testing companies say at the test site, is if you are caught cheating you will be removed from the process and potentially prosecuted. So I didn't cheat on the test, but I feel that the department cheated me. How do I get to prosecute? I don't because if I do, I can kiss a firefighter job goodbye, as I would be blackballed by the entire CT fire service. It definitely isn't a fair system. I agree with BC Lepore that if the Chief in Stamford hires like this I can only imagine how he promotes. Maybe his son will be his next deputy chief :-)???

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    Guys- I know this sucks during the holidays especially. All your points are valid. Keep plugging and something good will happen. I know it may be no consolation. The only thing that stopped you this time was a corrupt department. Do your research on the departments you're interested in so you don't set yourself up for disappointment in the future, and maybe next time it will be the one.

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    Default The questionable hiring of firefighters

    The questionable hiring of firefighters


    The questionable hiring of firefighters Published January 5 2006

    Published January 5 2006


    Critics decry the system used to select paid firefighters for the Stamford Fire & Rescue department. Who can blame them? The system appears to be rife with cronyism and conflicts of interest. No one seems willing or able to explain why relatives and friends of current firefighters, city officials -- even members of the commission that does the hiring -- are offered jobs over applicants who score higher on firefighter exams. The interview process is a mystery; the criteria used to select firefighters vague. Unless someone can offer a better justification for the status quo, a complete overhaul of the selection system is necessary.

    Advocate Staff Writer Donna Porstner, a Stamford government reporter, began writing about the city's failure to attract more women and racial minorities to the firefighting force about a month ago. That is a long-standing problem, and it is not unique to Stamford. Mayor Dannel Malloy and other city officials have some strategies they'd like to try. But while that subject merits attention, the immediate need is to make sure that criteria used to hire all firefighters are clear, spelled out, fair and evenly applied to all applicants, regardless of personal connections. Well-qualified people -- not those who know someone -- ought to get these jobs, which can lead to good-paying, rewarding careers with the city. The average base salary for a city firefighter is $61,218.

    Among other things, Ms. Porstner has reported that some men who scored high enough on firefighter exams to be considered top hires recently were passed over for jobs, while some with personal connections got job offers. Two of the four hired for recent openings were sons of Stamford Fire & Rescue firefighters, but only one of those two men -- James Romaniello, the son of fire Capt. James Romaniello -- stood out on the test. The other, Scott Avalos, son of Capt. William Avalos and a Hispanic, had a much lower score.

    Among the eight alternates who are next in line for jobs were the mayor's nephew, Brien Malloy; Fire Chief Robert McGrath's son, Michael McGrath; and Christopher Brennan, the son of E. Gaynor Brennan. The elder Brennan sits on the Fire Commission that does the hiring.

    Two of these alternates, Brien Malloy and Christopher Brennan, actually received jobs offers earlier this month when spots opened up in the fire department. The offers were rescinded because the Fire Commission did not vote on the hires; a "miscommunication" between the city's Human Resources Department and the Fire Commission was blamed. Whether the Fire Commission will offer jobs -- and if so, to whom -- is not clear. The commission is scheduled to meet this month.

    A lack of clearly identified hiring criteria is one big problem for the bipartisan, five-member Fire Commission.

    Applicants who pass a physical agility test can take the written firefighter exam. The commission interviews those who pass that test. Chairman Richard Lyons has said the interview is important to the final determination. That makes a lot of sense. But the interviews must be thorough and structured to provide insight into the leadership abilities and other personal qualities of the applicants. Commission members won't talk, not even in the broadest terms, about the questions they ask or the skills and abilities they are seeking.

    Nor is it clear that the same hiring standards are used for all applicants -- in other words, that the process is fair. That is a very serious concern. Three of the men who scored high on the exam told Ms. Porstner that their interviews lasted two or three minutes and included no personal questions. One applicant said he merely was asked to verify his address and employer. If those reports are accurate, then it's no wonder that these men believe you have to be on the inside to get a paid firefighter's job in Stamford. The fire department won't be more diverse or representative of the city as a whole until the mayor and Stamford Board of Representatives change that perception.

    Under the circumstances, it would be better if the relatives and friends of current firefighters, city officials and members of the Fire Commission look outside Stamford's department when applying for firefighters' job. The city needs to make it clear that cronyism and nepotism will not be tolerated, at least until it develops more specific guidelines for the interviews and more concrete hiring practices are put into place.

    This is no reflection on the qualifications of those applicants or on the fire department, and we recognize that the city could lose some fine candidates if it adopts this approach. But we're confident that other good candidates exist. And it would be one of the fastest ways to change a very troubling perception.

    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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    The hiring process every where in the country is messed up. Why? Cause its a highly coveted positon. When thousands take a test for a few hundred jobs, problems occur. I have heard people say "tough" when people complain about paying to take tests that then arent really used in the hiring process. Im just truely interested in how a passing score can be 47% of the correct answers. Thats a joke and damn close to the recent LT. written exam here in philly. Since when did a passing score in anything drop below 70%?
    Just another one of the 99%ers looking up.

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    Default Fire Commission hiring records unavailable

    Fire Commission hiring records unavailable
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    By Donna Porstner
    Staff Writer

    Published January 11 2006


    STAMFORD CT -- The Fire Commission has not made public the records of meetings at which it decided the mayor's nephew and a commissioner's son would be next in line for firefighting jobs.

    By designating Christopher Brennan, son of fire Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan, and Brien Malloy, nephew of Mayor Dannel Malloy, as alternates, the commission put them at the top of the hiring list.

    Applicants who scored high on the hiring exam but were not offered jobs have questioned why the commission would hire friends and relatives over more qualified applicants.

    No records of last year's fire commission meetings were available for public inspection at the city clerk's office or fire headquarters until Monday, when, after repeated requests by The Advocate to review the records, the commission filed nearly two year's worth of minutes with the city clerk.

    It is clear when the documents were filed because workers in the clerk's office stamp them with the date they are received.

    The mass filing includes a record of the action taken at eight commission meetings in 2004 and only the September meeting in 2005. There are no records on file for November 2005, when 120 firefighter applicants were interviewed by the commission, or for the Dec. 13 meeting, at which Christopher Brennan and Brien Malloy were expected to be hired.

    The commission took no action in December but is expected to fill the job openings when it meets Jan. 17.

    Under the state Freedom of Information Act, minutes of public meetings must be made available to the public within seven days. Records of how each commission member voted on an issue are supposed to be available within 48 hours.

    The Advocate filed a complaint yesterday against the Fire Commission with the Freedom of Information Commission.

    Fire Commissioner Richard Lyons, a Democrat who has been on the panel for 10 years, said yesterday he is not familiar with state laws governing public records but said its not about tests scores. He said the minutes of the December meeting will be available today after he signs them and makes them official.

    His signature is not on any of the other meeting minutes. Brennan signed them all.

    Lyons said he didn't know the commission was not filing records with the city clerk because he thought Brennan was taking care of it.

    "I was under the impression they were being filed," Lyons said. "Gaynor Brennan is the secretary. It's his job to get them down there."

    Unlike the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Harbor Commission, which pay someone to take minutes at each meeting, fire commissioners record their own minutes. Its five members are volunteers who serve three-year terms.

    Brennan said he's not the secretary, but he has been taking the minutes for the 19 years he has served on the commission. During that time, he had his secretary at his law office type the minutes, fax a copy to fire headquarters, then mail the original there, Brennan said. He assumed someone at fire headquarters was sending a copy to the clerk's office, he said.

    Lyons told him recently that no meeting minutes were on file in the clerk's office, Brennan said, so he went into his secretary's computer and printed all the minutes he could find for the past two years, then brought them to the clerk's office.

    Brennan said he is certain there was more than one month of minutes last year, but that's all he could find.

    "I know I've done others for 2005. Where they are, I don't know," he said.

    Brennan said there shouldn't be minutes for every month because some of the meetings were canceled, sometimes he was ill, and sometimes a meeting was uneventful and he didn't take notes.

    "Some months we came in and said 'hello' and 'goodbye,' and when that happened, I didn't do minutes," he said.

    When The Advocate called fire headquarters last week, a clerk said there were no fire commission records available, and a reporter should contact Lyons.

    Malloy, who appoints the fire commissioners, did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc

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    Default More is needed to fix hiring process

    More is needed to fix hiring process


    Published January 13 2006


    Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy is taking some sensible steps in response to allegations of cronyism and nepotism in the city Fire Department. It's a solid start in the right direction. But we'd like to see more. It's the only way to restore public confidence in the system.

    Mr. Malloy has directed the city's human resources director to review processes and procedures used by city boards and commissions, with a focus on the Police and Fire commissions because they have hiring authority. The mayor also is taking a second step. He is asking the citizen volunteers who head city boards and commissions to attest in writing that they will comply with Connecticut open record and freedom of information laws.

    In recent days, Advocate Staff Writer Donna Porstner has reported that the Fire Commission had not made public its agendas or reports of action taken at meetings where firefighters are hired. Information must be filed with the city clerk's office under state law by any board or commission doing the city's business. Ms. Porstner's dogged pursuit of this story also includes reporting that Fire Commission minutes fail to reflect specifics about hiring decisions, such as which members were present and voting and the nature of debate. Richard Lyons, the chairman of the Fire Commission, told Ms. Porstner that he is unfamiliar with state requirements.

    This is a lot more than a boring controversy over legalese and paper. There are serious allegations about nepotism and cronyism in the Fire Department. Applicants who scored high on firefighter exams say they are being passed over for jobs in favor of those who don't score as well on the tests but are friends or relatives of Fire Commission members, current firefighters and city officials. The son of a Fire Commission member has been on the short list for an opening in the department, along with the mayor's nephew. We have not heard similar allegations about hiring in the Police Department, but the procedures used to fill those jobs are similar, so the matter is worth reviewing.

    E. Gaynor Brennan, the Fire Commission member whose son is awaiting a job, and Mayor Malloy maintain they have not said Word One to help family members. Mr. Malloy said he was not even aware that his nephew had applied. The mayor has a big family and that is plausible. But the beauty of family, friends and influence is that words are not necessary. All commission members need to do is see is the name on the application and act accordingly.

    This is not to say that Mr. Brennan's son, Christopher, or Mr. Malloy's nephew, Brien Malloy, are unqualified or would make bad hires. They might be excellent candidates when personal skills or leadership potential are taken into account. But under the circumstances, they should not be considered for firefighting jobs in Stamford at this time, nor should relatives or friends of current firefighters or other city officials. A moratorium needs to be imposed, at least until the matter is settled. Those with no ties to power and influence in Stamford should get these jobs.

    More should be done, too, to ensure compliance with open government laws. Members of city boards and commissions are encouraged to attend periodic seminars on these laws, but the city's legal director admits that attendance is sparse. We recognize that these are volunteers, but they ought to attend at least one session on the law with a representative of the state's Freedom of Information Commission.

    Stamford also should follow the lead of some other Connecticut municipalities and form a city advisory board on freedom of information issues. Such boards serve as liaisons between municipalities, local officials and the state Freedom of Information Commission. They also make suggestions and act as a clearinghouse for open record and freedom of information laws.

    Some Fire Commission members have observed that they are performing their duties no differently than their predecessors. Maybe so. But if that is the case, then this is one remnant of small-town life that Stamford should not hesitate to eliminate.

    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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    Default Stamford Firefighter hiring process especially unjust to veterans

    Firefighter hiring process especially unjust to veterans
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    Published January 15 2006


    To the editor:

    Regarding "Fire Commission hiring records unavailable" (Advocate news story, Jan. 11): The arrogance of the Stamford Fire Commission is not just disappointing -- it's outrageous!

    In the 21st century, with all of the checks and balances in place for civil service hiring, the commission somehow believes it can get away with awarding jobs to friends and relatives and not be accountable for it. The law sets out priorities for eligibility and hiring, and it looks like they've been ignored.

    One example hurts the worst: candidates who are veterans of U.S. military service. Civil service law requires that veterans be allotted bonus points on top of their test scores. Why? Because they already have shown that they are brave enough to lay down their lives for their country and its people. Their experience is better preparation than any other for fires and other emergencies. Yet veterans who scored in the top eligibility rank were tossed aside.

    What disrespect for our veterans, and what total disregard for the citizens of Stamford in depriving us of the bravest and most qualified firefighters!

    I hope The Advocate continues its investigation of this matter. We deserve better, and so do our troops -- past and present.

    xxxxxx xxxxxxx

    Norwalk , CT

    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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    Default Commission to delay hiring firefighters

    Commission to delay hiring firefighters

    Commission to delay hiring firefighters
    By Donna Porstner
    Staff Writer

    Published January 17 2006


    STAMFORD, CT -- After being accused of nepotism, the Fire Commission will not hire the mayor's nephew and a fire commissioner's son tonight as planned.

    Chairman Richard Lyons said members will not discuss hirings or promotions at its monthly meeting at the direction of city Director of Human Resources Dennis Murphy, who is investigating the commission's hiring practices.

    Mayor Dannel Malloy last week called on Murphy to investigate the fire and police commissions -- the only two commissions with hiring authority -- amid allegations that the Fire Commission hired friends and relatives over more qualified applicants.

    Lyons said his commission is no longer authorized to fill two vacant positions expected to be given to Brien Malloy, the mayor's nephew, and Christopher Brennan, son of fire Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan.

    "There are no vacancies to be acted upon," Lyons said yesterday.

    He could not explain how the commission lost its approval to fill the positions. Lyons referred all questions to Murphy, who could not be reached for comment. The Government Center was closed yesterday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

    Murphy is halting all hiring and promotions until he can establish new procedures for hiring, including drafting specific questions to be asked during the interviews and criteria for rating each applicant, according to a source who asked not to be identified. There are rumblings that the city might require all 120 firefighter applicants who took the Aug. 6 firefighters' exam to reinterview with the Fire Commission.

    There have been two vacancies in Stamford Fire & Rescue since Dec. 5, when the city's Human Resources Department sent Lyons a letter saying the commission, which had already filled four openings in November, was authorized to fill two more entry-level firefighting jobs.

    The two openings were expected to be filled by Brien Malloy and Christopher Brennan because, as alternates, they are next in line for jobs. The city's Human Resources Department sent both job offers in anticipation of their appointment at the Dec. 13 Fire Commission meeting. When the commission did not appoint them, the offers were withdrawn.

    At the time, Lyons said the commission did not do any hiring Dec. 13 because he had not received the letter in time and did not know there were jobs to fill. He said the commission would discuss filling the positions at its January meeting, which is tonight.

    It is unclear what business the Fire Commission will take up when it meets at 5:30 p.m. at fire headquarters. The agenda filed with the city clerk lists five items: chief's report, personnel issues, old business, new business and minutes.

    Under the state's Freedom of Information laws, public boards and agencies must list any business they plan to discuss on an agenda issued at least 24 hours before the meeting to give people who might be interested an opportunity to attend. Members must take a vote during a meeting to discuss any items not on the agenda.

    Not having an item listed on an agenda has not stopped the commission from taking action in the past.

    It hired four firefighters at the November meeting when, according to the agenda, it was scheduled only to interview job candidates.

    The agenda for the November meeting, never filed with the clerk but obtained by The Advocate last week, appears to have been written after the meeting. It lists the members who attended and those who were absent. It also makes a notation that Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan, who was listed as present, recused himself from the selection process.

    Last week, Malloy announced plans to improve the Fire Commission's record-keeping by assigning a city employee to take minutes at its meetings. By not having paid clerical staff to assist the commission, the city appears to be in violation of the city Charter. The Charter requires the director of administration to assign clerks to all appointed boards and commissions, including the Fire Commission.

    Lyons was chairman of the city's Charter Revision Commission in 2004.

    William Callion, the city's director of public safety, health and welfare, said Friday he could not comment on the Fire Commission's record-keeping because he has never seen any of its agendas or meeting minutes in his 2 1/2 years on the job. Callion, a former member of the Fire Commission, said he attends their meetings about once a year.

    Callion said Friday he did not know whether the commission was expected to do any hiring tonight. He also did not know whether there are any vacancies for the commission to fill, saying he would ask the fire chief.

    Even if jobs are open, Callion said the commission should hold off on hiring until Murphy's investigation is complete.


    Christopher Munger, a Republican who lost to Malloy during the last mayoral election, said the Fire Commission should start from scratch and ask fire chiefs in neighboring towns to sit on the interview panel. Munger said that's how it was done a few years ago when his son Bryan, a city representative, was hired by the Turn of River Fire Department.

    "I think the process should be done over and I think they've got to bring in outside people to conduct the interviews," Munger said.

    City Rep. Joseph Coppola, R-15, a former Belltown Fire chief, agreed that Stamford Fire & Rescue should bring in outside experts who can be impartial. But he said he doesn't think restarting the entire process would be fair to the job applicants.

    "It's not their fault," Coppola said.

    If the mayor punishes anyone, Coppola said, it should be the Fire Commission.

    "I think if I were in his position, I'd look at the people on the Fire Commission and wonder if it's time for a change," he said.

    Coppola said he doesn't understand how the city can have mayoral appointees with no public safety experience hiring firefighters.

    "Public safety is not something the average citizen, who has no training in, should be involved in," he said.

    Coppola said Malloy made the right move by investigating.

    Munger said he has no doubt Malloy will come up with a solution.

    "He's running for governor," Munger said. "He's got to look good and he's got to clean up that mess."


    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.


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    I think they should redo the interviews, only to be fair.

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    Default Fire panel will start over in hiring alternates

    Fire panel will start over in hiring alternates

    By Donna Porstner
    Staff Writer

    STAMFORD CT -- The Fire Commission last night threw out the list of alternates next in line for firefighting jobs and agreed to reinterview nearly 120 job candidates.

    It does not plan to rescind the four job offers already made.

    Commissioners said they did nothing wrong by putting the mayor's nephew, the fire chief's son( who Score a 47% on the Written Test) and a fellow fire commissioner's son on the list of eight alternates, but added they felt compelled to take action after newspaper articles raised questions of nepotism.

    Commissioner Marilyn Dussault, a Democrat, said she researched the topic and found no prohibition against hiring relatives of city officials. She said all three passed the written exam and physical agility test, and were on the hiring list that makes them eligible for employment with Stamford Fire & Rescue.

    "To my knowledge, there is no ordinance, no rule, no regulation that says no relative of the chief, the commission, the mayor, may apply," for job openings, she said during the commission's monthly meeting at fire headquarters.

    But Dussault said the commission has no choice but to re-interview all but the four applicants already hired to prove to the public the selection process was not fixed.

    "Our integrity is being questioned here," she said.

    The four commissioners present -- Chairman Richard Lyons, Ralph Murray, Donald Rozier and Dussault voted in favor of a second round of interviews. Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan, whose son Christopher was alternate No. 1, left the room before the vote to avoid a conflict of interest.

    The commission's decision comes just days after Mayor Dannel Malloy ordered Director of Human Resources Dennis Murphy to investigate the police and fire commissions' hiring practices.

    Top scorers on the Aug. 6 firefighters exam have questioned how the commission could hire friends and relatives over more qualified applicants.

    Dussault requested the city's Human Resources Department provide the commission with each applicant's raw score on the written exam before the next round of interviews.

    The certified hiring list groups candidates with similar scores into three ranks, but does not give individual scores.

    Without individual scores, commissioners say they have no way of knowing if they were choosing a candidate with a low score over another with a higher score.

    The commission selected alternates from all three ranks.

    Dussault, a lawyer, said it doesn't make sense to keep the raw scores from the commission when they have already been printed in the newspaper.

    "If everybody else has them, why shouldn't we?" she asked.

    Last night, Murphy advised the commission that it should create a rating system that would allow members to evaluate every candidate using the same criteria.

    "There should be some scoring sheet, some ranking, so there's a way to justify and distinguish one candidate from another," Murphy said.

    He gave members a list of suggested questions to ask applicants during the interviews and recommended they ask every candidate the same set of questions.

    But the commissioners did not seem pleased Murphy was telling them how to assess candidates and reminded him the commission has the sole authority to make hiring decisions under the city Charter.Lyons said he would take Murphy's suggestions under advisement, but ultimately the commission would decide how to proceed.

    Dussault said four of the five members have been on the commission for at least a decade and can recognize the character traits that make a good firefighter. She said she took detailed notes during the two days of interviews and would be happy to provide them to anyone who doubts the integrity of the process.

    "I don't understand why I would be accused of cronyism, and, quite frankly, I'm not happy with it," she said. "I've done my job."

    The five commissioners three Democrats and two Republicans -- are volunteers appointed by Malloy.

    Lyons, a Democrat, said the panel was being unfairly criticized.

    "To be sitting here and be beaten up like a baby seal is terrible. Terrible," he said.

    The commission should not be forced to put too much weight on exam scores, Lyons said.

    "The academic degrees and the academic scores sometimes don't show you the passion that's in a person," he said.

    Murray said he was most unhappy that the hiring list was comprised almost all white men and blamed Murphy for not providing the commission the diversity it was looking for. The applicants should "look like the city of Stamford," Murray said.

    There are three Hispanic men, no black men and no women among the 120 applicants on the hiring list. Next year, when another 113 applicants with passing scores become eligible for employment, four more Hispanic men, seven black men, one woman and one man who described his race as "other" will be in the running.

    Murray made a motion to throw out the written exam and start over from scratch. While members agreed the lack of diversity is problematic, they said it is too late to do anything about it now. They said it wouldn't be fair to the four men already offered firefighting jobs.

    Realizing there wasn't enough support, Murray withdrew the motion.

    If the commission was unhappy with the hiring list, Murphy said it could have left vacant positions unfilled.

    Commissioners scoffed at the idea, saying it would cost taxpayers too much in overtime to meet manpower requirements and would put public safety at risk.

    The fire department had three vacancies as of last night, but the fire commission was not expected to make any hiring decisions.

    Malloy has ordered the police and fire commissions to freeze all hiring and promotions until Murphy is done investigating.

    "The mayor has asked that we holdup or defer any hiring until we review -- possibly refine -- the hiring process," William Callion, the city's director of public safety, health and welfare, said in an interview yesterday afternoon.

    In the police department, Murphy said the freeze will not delay promotions because he will be done with his report by Feb. 6, when the police commission is scheduled to interview candidates for sergeant and lieutenant jobs.

    Murphy said there is no evidence so far of any wrongdoing on the police commission's part, but took the precaution to ensure procedures are being followed. The police and fire commissions are the only panels with hiring authority.

    "It's just pro-forma," Murphy said when there is an investigation in progress. "You just stop what you're doing and make sure you're doing it right."

    Personnel Commission Chairman Frank Green said he is waiting to see Murphy's report before deciding if his panel will get involved in the fire commission hiring controversy.

    Under the city Charter, the Personnel Commission is charged with upholding the integrity of the civil service hiring process.

    It has the power to investigate and can subpoena records and testimony from witnesses, if necessary.

    "I'm not actually sure there was improper hiring," Green said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We have to let the current investigation take place and after that we will take a look at that."

    -- Staff Writer Zach Lowe contributed to this story.

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    Default Fire Commission prepares for more thorough interviews

    Fire Commission prepares for more thorough interviews
    Email this story

    By Donna Porstner
    Staff Writer

    Published March 16 2006


    STAMFORD CT -- The Fire Commission, which took heat for spending only a few minutes with firefighter candidates last fall, plans to spend up to 36 hours reinterviewing applicants this spring.

    The commission is scheduled to meet six times -- twice in March, twice in April and twice in May -- to interview more than 100 job candidates who passed the written and physical tests.

    Chairman Dick Lyons said the five-member commission will decide in late May or early June so the new recruits will be on board in time to enter the state fire academy in July.

    "We're allowing between 15 and 20 minutes per interview," Lyons said. "That's why we had to spread them over such a long time."

    The commission hired four men from the August exam but threw out its list of alternates and ordered a second round of interviews after The Advocate questioned why relatives of city officials were chosen over applicants with higher scores. The mayor's nephew, the fire chief's son and the son of fire Commissioner E. Gaynor Brennan were among the eight alternates.

    Three of the top performers on the written exam told The Advocate they left their interviews in November with the impression that the new hires had been predetermined. The commission spent two or three minutes with each and did not ask any personal questions, they said. One applicant said he was asked only to verify his address and employer.

    Commissioners have said they did nothing wrong but had to restart the process to defend their integrity. Lyons likened the criticism to being "beaten up like a baby seal."

    This time, members asked the Human Resources Department to provide all the applicants' raw exam scores.

    Last time they saw only banded scores, which groups candidates by test score. Without actual scores, they had no way of knowing whether they were choosing someone with a higher score over someone with a lower score, commissioners said. The alternates they selected came from all three groupings -- top, middle and lowest scores.

    The commission has the authority to hire anyone who passes the written and physical tests. Applicants had to get at least 47 percent of the questions right to pass the Aug. 6 exam. The physical portion is pass or fail.

    Since then, Director of Human Resources Dennis Murphy instructed the volunteer board to come up with a rating system that assesses candidates using the same criteria. The commission is expected to adopt new hiring procedures when it holds a special meeting at fire headquarters 5 p.m. Wednesday. Members are expected to make two promotions at that meeting.

    Fire Chief Robert McGrath recently told the Board of Finance that the seven vacancies in his department are draining his overtime budget since he has to fill the positions on overtime to meet minimum manpower requirements.

    Stamford Fire & Rescue is expected to spend $1.9 million overtime in the fiscal year ending June 30, Director of Public Safety, Health and Welfare William Callion said. That's an increase from the $1.3 million spent last year but less than the $2.1 million spent two years ago, Callion said.

    The high number of vacancies, a rash of injuries on the job that kept firefighters out of work and a spike in major fires that required calling back employees contributed to overtime costs, Callion said.

    Overtime spending is expected to decrease this summer when the four new recruits in the fire academy are on the job and the three vacancies are filled.

    The department is expected to hire at least 11 new firefighters by July -- three to fill existing vacancies plus eight new positions created by a recent contract settlement.

    Lyons said all job interviews will be conducted behind closed doors unless the candidate requests it be held in public.

    "They'll be advised at the beginning of the session and, if they want to go out of executive session, they can," he said.

    Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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