Charges by Salt Lake City Fire Department employees that hiring and promotional practices are based heavily on favoritism are hearsay, the chairwoman of the Civil Service Commission said Friday.

Twenty Salt Lake firefighters packed a room in City Hall Thursday to hear testimony by several employees seeking a Civil Service investigation into unfair hiring and promotional review practices at the 360-person fire department.Fire Capt. Jack Carr told the commission some applicants going through the promotional review process could enjoy the benefits of "favoritism" from Fire Chief Peter Pederson, who Carr said could have given applicants testing information in advance.

"That's a very serious indictment," Commission Chairwoman Pat Freston said, adding later the charge is based on hearsay and lacks evidence.

But Carr said at the commission hearing that Pederson made information available to some fire department personnel up for promotion and "we think under investigation we can prove it happened."

Pederson denied the accusation and said information had already been given to firefighters and had been distributed to all those up for promotion.

The perception of favoritism and other factors such as low manpower have contributed to poor morale and the feeling that the Fire Department is "going to hell in a hand-basket," Carr said.

Capt. Jubie Varoz told the commission unfair testing procedures also taint the hiring process at the Fire Department because those who give final review to applicants are also those who recruit them, presenting the opportunity for unfair coaching on the part of the recruiter.

Battalion Chief James Kleine, who served as a recruiter, said coaching selected applicants would be impossible because there are upward of 600 applicants to review - too many to play favorites.

"There was no way I could know these people on an individual basis and no way I could favor one or the other," he said.

Nevertheless, Freston said in the future recruiters would be separated from those who give final review to the applicants.