In a 3-2 decision Thursday, the Fort Smith Civil Service Commission approved the fire chief’s request to change the interview process for prospective firefighters.

Rather than applicants going through interviews with the Fire Department and the Civil Service Commission separately, Fire Chief Phil Christensen asked that a Fire Review Board, made up of two Fire Department representatives at the rank of captain or higher and one Civil Service commissioner, conduct interviews.

By the time applicants reach the interview, they have passed a written test and physical agility test.

“Being real familiar with EEOC rules and interviewing and hiring practices, it’s most important that a single set of people start the process and end the process,” Commissioner Robyn Dawson said. “If you’re having two sets of interviews by two sets of people in two different rooms, you’re opening yourself up to a lot of liability.”

The size of the Civil Service Commission was increased in September from five to seven members after a series of conflicts with the Board of Directors that began when the commission did not approve a request from the police chief to make a change to the Police Department’s hiring process.

Dawson and Walker were appointed to fill the new positions, and some of the city’s directors cited their experience in human resources as a reason for why they were chosen.

Commissioners Marty Shell, Orvall Smith and John Walker voted in favor of Christensen’s request. Commissioners Charolette Tidwell and Dawson were opposed. Commissioners Chip Sexton and Bob Cooper were absent.

Dawson said that the commissioners should not take part in the interview process and that the chief should have a lot of say in who is hired. Instead, the fire chief, after he and any other Fire Department staff who are a part of the hiring process would interview applicants and the chief would bring his recommendations for employment to the commission for final approval. Dawson said that boards and commissions generally do not sit in on job interviews, adding that in her role as principal at Spradling Elementary School, she and other staff conduct job interviews and bring recommendations to the school board but the school board does not sit in on the interviews.