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AFD promotion process billed as thorough, far-reaching

ALBANY, Ga. -- The hiring and promotion process for local firefighters has gone high-tech as officials work to make the process more involved and thorough.

Gone are the days of simply soliciting applications through a single advertisement or publication, Chief James Carswell said. Now, officials integrate online job listings catered specifically to those seeking positions in government into the process.

"That sometimes means we get applications and resumes from all over the world," Carswell said. "It wasn't that long ago that we had an opening and got resumes from American contractors working in the Middle East."

It's part of an overhaul of the AFD's hiring and promotions process which aims to make the process as fair and accessible as possible while ensuring that positions get filled with the most qualified person possible.

While the process does differ depending on the position -- lieutenants, for example are tested on different topics than a deputy chief would be -- the intent and the overarching concepts are the same.

As the department sought to fill a recent vacancy in an assistant fire chief position, administrators went about it in a very deliberate and focused way.

The position was advertised on the city's website and through the local media, but facilitator and Deputy EMA Director Jim Vaught also posted an ad using NeoGov, a Web service that makes the listing available to anyone with an Internet connection.

After the initial application period has ended, Vaught -- who is the facilitator because he typically has no connection with local firefighters and "doesn't have a dog in the hunt" -- collects the applications and resumes and sorts them into three piles.

"Basically, I look at them and put them in three stacks," Vaught said. "Not qualified, qualified or very qualified based on the minimum job qualifications."

At this point in the search, Vaught again goes over the applications and resumes, but this time with the city's equal employment opportunity officer and other human resources officials to make sure no skill set or piece of information is overlooked.

The applicants who meet qualifications are then contacted to see if they are still interested in the job, to request certain paperwork like a Security and Privacy Act Release form, and a copy of the job description.

Those who are still interested and who send in their form are contacted again and notified of the interview dates and times and given the job description, as well as a description of the pay and benefits.

The applicants then go through a three-part interview process that includes a problem-solving exercise or critical thinking component that is based on the job being sought, an interview with a five-person panel, which includes people of a rank higher than what is being sought from fire departments across the state, and finally an interview with the AFD's top leadership.

After each phase, there is a cut with Carswell making the final determination at the final step.

"The ultimate decision often comes down to me, but the applicant has to get through many layers before I ever get to speak with them," Carswell said. "And throughout the entire process, we have an EEO or HR representative involved."

That process does change slightly depending on the position.

For instance, when Deputy Chief Ron Rowe was hired, City Manager Alfred Lott made the final decision on who to hire along with Carswell.

In that case, a panel consisting of community members like Anthony Parker from Albany Technical College and others interviewed the candidates and voted on which to advance.