Names kept secret in L.A. County fire cheating audit

Auditors will provide names in fire exam cheating in separate confidential report

An audit released over the weekend showed that 17 sworn Los Angeles County Fire Department officials, including one battalion chief and 10 captains, had obtained confidential entrance testing materials and sent them to others.

But the audit did not reveal the names of those who shared the exam material. Rather, county auditors said they will present the chief with a separate, confidential report that identifies people responsible for the breaches so that the chief “may take appropriate corrective and/or disciplinary action.”

It was unclear whether any of the employees cited in the audit have been disciplined.

The audit was launched in response to a Times investigation last year that found that an unusually high number of family members of firefighters were hired by the department and that insiders had access to the interview questions and answers.

As The Times' Abby Sewell and Paul Pringle reported Saturday, the audit raised more troubling questions about cheating in the department hiring process.

In at least one case, a candidate who received copies of interview questions and answers was the son of a fire captain who sent emails to his father requesting clarification on certain questions, the investigation found. That son was hired.

When interviewed by county investigators, the department employees involved “generally asserted that they did not remember why they circulated examination content or know how it might have been used,” auditors wrote.

Copies of written and oral exams were left in “an unsecured box of paperwork that was left unattended in an empty work station” in the Fire Department's exam section. Department staff inadvertently mailed the internal rating standards to some candidates. And the agency was often unable to provide documents showing how it selected candidates for the written exams, as well as background checks and medical examinations.

“As a result, we could not determine if the selections were random or evaluate the integrity or the objectivity of the process,” the auditors wrote.

In a written response to the auditors, Fire Chief Daryl Osby promised to “communicate to all departmental personnel that disseminating examination content is prohibited and any violation may be subject to discipline.” He said he would work with county attorneys and human resources officials to develop improved safeguards. The department will also implement a policy on nepotism, he wrote.

The Times' investigation, published in October, found that at least 183 sons of current or former firefighters have served in the department since the start of 2012, according to an analysis of payroll, pension, birth, marriage and other records. The known number of sons accounts for nearly 7% of the county's 2,750 firefighters.

When brothers, nephews and other relatives are included, at least 370 firefighters — 13% of the department ranks — are related to someone now or previously on the force.

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