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Iraq veteran bypassed as firefighter candidate

Posted by Kaileigh Higgins  December 23, 2010 10:04 AM

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The Somerville Board of Aldermen approved six new additions to the permanent firefighter reserve list at their Dec. 16 meeting. All full-time, active firefighters must be appointed to this reserve list to get a job with the Somerville Fire Department. Missing from the lineup, however, was the most prominent would-be Somerville firefighter: Iraq veteran Sean O'Brien.

Over the summer, O'Brien successfully petitioned the state to be put at the top of the Human Resources Division certification for consideration, charging that the city improperly left him out of the process during the fall of 2009. The city has been reviewing candidates from the most recent certification since April.

City spokesman Michael Meehan said he was unable to comment on specific personnel decisions. However, he said, candidates go through background and reference checks, and drug, physical, and psychiatric testing. If there are concerns or dishonesty at any stage, the candidate will be passed over for employment at this time or possibly permanently rejected, a status known as "PAR 9."

An additional candidate from the Human Resources Division certification was given a PAR 9, Meehan said.

Several aldermen were troubled by the decision to bypass O'Brien, questioning whether politics were involved. Aldermen Bill White, Rebekah Gewirtz, and Bruce Desmond voted to send the matter back to the Committee on Appointments for further review. However, they failed to win approval. O'Brien retains the option to appeal the decision with the state.

Since the personnel team decided only to bypass O'Brien, not to permanently reject him, he will be at the top of the next certification the city requests from the state. Which might come soon: The city already has two vacancies on the force, director of personnel Jessie Baker told the aldermen on Dec. 16, and expects more in January.

Meehan doesn't expect Fire Department hiring to slow down anytime soon. The city's fire  force numbers 140 when fully staffed, and currently includes a lot of baby boomers. Since many are retiring by choice or at the mandated age of 65, Meehan said, "There will be no shortage of opportunities to join the Somerville fire force."

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