An overtime budget that doubled in four years, an unorthodox testing method used by no other large fire department in America, and a promotion system that overlooks the people who do most of the Fire Department’s work are some of the major problems with the department’s hiring and recruitment practices, an audit released Monday found.
For years, accusations of favoritism and discrimination have hounded the Fire Department, which in October was ordered to pay out $3.7 million to former lieutenant candidates who accused the department of fudging test results.
Racial- and gender-hiring goals set by a federal judge in 1987 have been met — about 52 percent of San Francisco firefighters are nonwhite and 16 percent are women — but “deep-seated” suspicion and “mistrust” among personnel over who gets promoted remain, the audit said.To allay these fears as well as allegations that preferred candidates for advancement received the answers to tests beforehand, the Fire Department created answer keys to tests as the tests are being given, the audit found.
The practice is “highly unusual,” and creates possibilities for mistakes in test questions, according to an audit conducted by Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.
That testing method, while unorthodox, is still considered the most fair and least susceptible to cheating, according to the Department of Human Resources, which administers the tests.
Staffing issues have plagued the department since budget cuts began during the worldwide financial crisis about six years ago.
There are about 1,400 firefighters in the department, 361 of whom are of retirement age of 50 or over, the audit found.
The department has relied on a ballooning overtime budget to cover vacancies caused by retirement. Overtime spending topped $40.1 million in the most recent fiscal year.
In 2009, the last time the Fire Department held open recruitment, more than 10,000 people applied. Of those, 5,200 passed the entrance exam, but only 143 have since been selected to enter the 17-week Fire Academy.
There is also no mention in job postings that Chief Joanne-Hayes White, who makes the final call on which applicants are selected to be Fire Academy cadets, also considers education and language skills as well as scores on the entrance exam, the audit found. Supervisor Malia Cohen, who requested the audit, called the findings “disappointing and disturbing” in a statement released Monday.