March 25--The president of the union representing Los Angeles firefighters on Monday told the mayor that suspending a controversial hiring program is "patently unfair" to candidates on track to be included in future classes.
Capt. Frank Lima voiced his concerns in a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who announced last week that he was halting the program amid concerns about mismanagement and nepotism.
A class of trainees is underway at the LAFD drill tower in Panorama City, but a class of about 70 additional recruits that was scheduled for the summer has been scrapped. Those recruits were part of pool of several hundred who have passed a written exam, a physical fitness test and oral examinations.
"You are penalizing qualified individuals who had no role in this broken system," Lima told the mayor. Lima said the fault lies with the Personnel Department, which managed the testing process.
John Mireles, 56, a Signal Hill resident, was among the candidates who received emails Thursday from personnel officials saying they would no longer be hiring those who began the testing process in March 2013. "We will notify you of future firefighter opportunities," the email said.
In an interview Monday, Mireles said he spent six years preparing to become a firefighter. He said he took fire science classes and worked nights on an ambulance in Santa Fe Springs, in addition to his full-time day job. He said he passed his LAFD interview, background investigations and was completing his medical exams, a final step in the hiring process.
"This may have been my last shot because of my age," Mireles said. "I understand the concern about fairness, but I feel the process now is unfair for me."
Several others who said they were on the hiring list and likely to be included in future classes told The Times they are now being punished by the mayor's action.
"We have proven our worth," said 26-year-old Yasha Vand of Torrance. A licensed paramedic, he said he also has been a volunteer firefighter for five years. "This is not logical ... especially when the deed has already been done."
Vand said that he had was going through his background investigation when he received his email last week.
Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said Monday that the mayor has the responsibility of reforming the system for everyone.
"A broken system isn't just broken for some. It's broken for all," Robb said.
Garcetti has said that hiring will resume in the next fiscal year after a review by experts from the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. A city website for applicants said they could sign up to be notified "when the entry-level exam is offered again."
The Times reported last month that thousands of candidates who passed a written test were excluded from consideration for a new training class because some of their paperwork wasn't received in the first 60 seconds of a filing period last spring. Nearly 25% of the 70 recruits eventually hired were related to LAFD firefighters.
Internal LAFD emails newly obtained by The Times show dozens of department officials were alerted last year that the paperwork, certifying that candidates had passed a physical fitness test, needed to arrive at the city in the first minutes of the filing period if applicants were to have a chance.
Another email discusses a coaching session for relatives of firefighters that was held at a city fire station. The captain who wrote the emails is the focus of a disciplinary investigation. He told The Times he also gave workshops to people not connected to the LAFD.
The hiring process has been criticized as arbitrary and unfair by applicants and city officials, including Garcetti and Interim Fire Chief James G. Featherstone. Critics said qualified applicants, including some with paramedic and firefighting experience, were passed over simply because they failed to meet the one-minute mark.
Regardless, Lima said the candidates who advanced through the process should be given priority in any future class.
"They have been thoroughly screened and have taken extensive written and oral tests," he said. "They have proven themselves worthy."
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