Springfield Fire Cited By State Civil Service Commission

The Massachusetts Civil Service Commission has handled down a decision that harshly criticizes the selection process used by the Springfield Fire Department to hire 21 new firefighters. The Commission was responding to the complaints of four candidates who claimed they were improperly bypassed.

To fully understand the decision, it is important to understand that in Massachusetts, municipal hiring decisions are governed by the state’s civil service commission. The multitude of decisions that go into  the hiring process must all be done in accordance with state requirements, creating a bureaucratic nightmare for those unfamiliar with the system.

The thrust of the commission’s ruling had to do with the role played by Deputy Chief Jerrold Prendergast in the selection process. Chief Prendergast’s son Zachary was among those hired by the process. While Chief Prendergast was not involved the interview process or in making the final appointments, he was involved at various points in assessing the qualifications of candidates to advance to the interview process.

The commission’s decision stated: “Deputy Chief Prendergast’s direct involvement in the review and selection process compromised the Fire Department’s ability to ensure open consideration of all candidates for the position of firefighter… To ensure that all candidates were given open consideration and to remove any appearance of impropriety, Deputy Chief Prendergast should have removed himself from this particular hiring round.”

The commission ordered that all non-selected candidates be contacted to determine their interest in being added to the “top of the next Certification” list where they will “remain… until such time as they receive at least one consideration for appointment.” They will also be granted retroactive seniority to same date as the 21 hired.

Here is the commission’s decision: Springfield-Fire-Department-Investigation

Springfield’s Fire Commissioner Gary Cassanelli issued a written statement concluding “I very much disagree with opinion of Chairman Bowman regarding his review of the Springfield Fire Department’s 2010 firefighter hiring process.”

Here is the official Springfield Fire Department response to the decision: Springfield FD Response

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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