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LA's smart timeout in fire department hiring game

The department needs to analyze and revamp hiring to avoid lawsuits and hire the best firefighters

Given firefighter-staffing shortages, you hate to see any delay in the hiring and training process. But I'm not sure how Los Angeles officials could have better reacted to the scrutiny surrounding hiring at LAFD.

As you know, the mayor put a halt to the hiring process following complaints of misconduct. Those complaints involved special treatment being shown to applicants who are family or friends of current L.A. firefighters and that only those applications that were submitted within the first 60 seconds were considered.

The mayor also brought in an outside firm to investigate the hiring process. Big-dollar hiring discrimination lawsuits, like those in Chicago and New York, make halting the L.A. hiring process a financially prudent move.

They were right to halt the process if for no other reason than the 60-second submission cut-off rule. That procedure is more in line with a radio station trying to give away concert tickets than it is an employer trying to find candidates for a highly skilled profession.

No matter how inundated the city may be with firefighter applications, there has to be a better way to separate candidates based on abilities rather than response time. The next application deadline needs to be reasonable and well publicized.

The issue of nepotism is a bit trickier. On the surface, the easy answer is to go with equal opportunity hiring with no regard for race, gender, creed or inside connections.

That's easier said than done. For starters, the department is trying to diversify its staff to better reflect the makeup of the city. That alone will skew equal hiring.

The other issue is the long tradition of multi-generations of firefighters. The fire service is big on tradition, and it has some good and some not-so-good traditions. This is a good one, but needs to be handled right if the city chooses to keep it in place.

Like the deadline, any preferential treatment needs to be above board — in writing — and well publicized. New York pulled this off when it offered preferred hiring to the descendants of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. The template is there.

As painful as it may be in the short term, L.A. officials were right to call a time out to try to get their hiring practices in order.

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