Top L.A. County fire officials questioned about test cheating scandal

Los Angeles County supervisors question fire officials about cheating allegations behind closed doors

Following a scathing audit report that alleged widespread instances of cheating on Fire Department tests used for hiring and internal promotions, Los Angeles County supervisors questioned top fire officials in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

At the request of Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the board added an emergency item to its closed session agenda, allowing the board to talk to Fire Department executives about taking disciplinary action against the employees mentioned in the report.

Auditors found that at least 17 department personnel -- including a battalion chief and 10 captains -- had shared hiring test materials with others. In one instance, the auditors found that a fire captain's son who was applying for a job had obtained copies of exam questions and answers and emailed back and forth with his father asking for clarification on the material.

It was not clear from the report whether any department employees had been disciplined. The personnel who shared the tests were not named in the public audit.

Fire Chief Daryl Osby was out of town when the audit report was released over the weekend and was not at the meeting Tuesday. Supervisors said he would be called to publicly answer questions about the audit findings at next week's meeting, along with officials from the auditor-controller's office and human resources department.

In an email to The Times on Monday, Osby said the department "will be addressing each and every substantiated allegation" outlined in the report. He said he would be "resolute in taking the appropriate administrative action against" employees who violated department policies.

Also next week, the board will consider a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create countywide hiring guidelines and procedures, including "an effective digital, customizable, secure, transparent and cost-effective testing and assessment system, that all Los Angeles County departments must use."

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

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