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Research Questions

  1. How can Los Angeles identify applicants most likely to be successful firefighters?
  2. How can Los Angeles ensure equal opportunity throughout the firefighter hiring process?
  3. How can Los Angeles increase the demographic diversity of new firefighter hires?
  4. How can Los Angeles minimize costs of the hiring process for the city and for applicants?

In 2014, the City of Los Angeles Mayor's Office sought assistance from the RAND Corporation to find ways to improve the process the city uses to hire firefighters into the Los Angeles Fire Department. RAND conducted a three-month review of Los Angeles's firefighter hiring policies and practices, paying particular attention to their effectiveness and fairness. This report presents the results of that three-month effort. It reviews the city's hiring practices used in the 2013 hiring cycle and in place at the time of the study and outlines a recommended new firefighter hiring process that is intended to increase efficiency of the hiring process, bolster the evidence supporting the validity of it, and make it more transparent and inclusive.

Key Findings

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Recruitment and Outreach Practices

  • LAFD personnel and stakeholders we interviewed felt that expanding the recruiting budget and staff would favorably impact outreach and recruiting efforts.
  • Our interviewees reported a belief that some members of minority groups, and women especially, have had a lower propensity to apply for firefighter positions compared with white males, but that improving the diversity of the applicant pool is possible with a long-term outreach and recruitment campaign.

Adverse Selection Against Women and Minorities in the LAFD's 2013 Hiring Process

  • In 2013, the number of firefighter applications submitted to the city dwarfed the number of available positions, with more than 13,000 applicants for fewer than 100 positions.
  • Most applicants who met the minimum eligibility requirements were eliminated by either the written exam portion of the firefighter selection process or the requirement to submit their Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) certification within a specific time window.
  • A larger proportion of Hispanic, black, and female applicants failed to take and pass the written test portion of the selection process, relative to white male applicants.
  • A larger proportion of Hispanic, black, Asian, and female applicants failed to submit their CPAT certification within the required time window, relative to white male applicants.
  • According to data from the organization that administers the CPAT, 94 percent of the people who take the test pass it. Hence, the CPAT itself does not eliminate many applicants.


  • Los Angeles should begin a new citywide firefighter outreach and recruiting campaign.
  • Los Angeles should validate the selection criteria used in the firefighter hiring process by establishing each criterion's relationship to the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics needed to successfully perform the job of firefighter.
  • Los Angeles should explore options for reducing the applicant pool to a manageable size.
  • Los Angeles should set aside funding and resources for a robust appeals process for applicants who believe that they have been wrongly passed over.

The research reported here was conducted in the Safety and Justice Program, part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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