Audit Documents Cheating and Nepotism at L.A. County Fire Department

Monday, March 09, 2015

Nowhere in the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s “Trainee Examination Study Guide” (pdf) does it reveal the real secret to doing well on the department’s tests—cheating.

A report (pdf) from County Auditor-Controller John Naimo found that “numerous” department personnel, particularly captains, were sharing questions and answers for the training exam and other civil service tests. Other candidates had access to mock interviews, test preparation guides and other assistance not generally available.

The auditor was slightly limited in his inquiry by the hobbled memories of those he talked to. “The sworn personnel interviewed generally asserted that they did not remember why they circulated examination content or know how it might have been used.”

Still, investigators were able to substantiate that oral test questions and answers for trainees between 2007 and 2011 “were compromised.” They found exact or paraphrased examination materials in the e-mail accounts of 27 sworn personnel: two battalion chiefs, 17 captains, on firefighter specialist and seven firefighters.

Seventeen of them spread the materials around. One firefighter disseminated a written exam that was subsequently sent to a generic e-mail account at a Fire Camp. None of it was approved by management or had a legitimate purpose.

The report did not assign a motive to the generous sharing of materials and information, but noted that 15% of the department’s 701 trainee hires between 2007 and 2014 had a relative working there.

The audit, which did not name names, credits the Los Angeles Times with bringing to light documents indicating the testing and nepotism issues. The Times began combing through department records when it filed California Public Records Act requests a year ago. The newspaper found that 7% of the county’s firefighters are sons carrying on the tradition and 13% are related to someone on the force, now or in the past. Math professor Christopher Hoffman told the Times that “clearly suggests there is a problem with nepotism.”

The Times found test materials “readily available.”

The auditor went a bit further in his investigation, conducting a forensic recovery and search of more than 52 million e-mail records. The report lists a range of document sources and interview subjects used by the auditor, but says the “Times indicated that their informant(s) declined to speak with us.”

Even without them, the picture of favoritism, and cheating to facilitate it, was hard to ignore. “Our awareness has been raised about nepotism and cronyism,” Deputy Chief Anthony Marrone told the newspaper.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

L.A. County Fire Officials Shared Test Questions Used in Hiring, Audit Finds (by Abby Sewell and Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times)

L.A. County Enacts New Hiring Guidelines in Wake of Firefighter Cheating (by John Schreiber, City News Service)

Los Angeles County Supervisors Call for “Corrective Action” After Fire Exam Leaks (by Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News)

Fire Fighter Trainee Examination Improprieties (by John Naimo, Los Angeles County Department of Auditor-Controller) (pdf)


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