Once-accused firefighters to be promoted

5 had been suspected of cheating on test

May 01, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

Five members of the Baltimore Fire Department who were accused of cheating on their promotional exams are scheduled to be elevated in rank tomorrow, according to fire officials.

Acting Fire Chief James S. Clack brokered an agreement last month with the city's human resources department to have the tainted promotion exam reinstated. He made his decision after reading a report from the city's inspector general.

"I read though the report a couple of times," Clack said yesterday. "The expert there said he could not prove cheating. To me that was a key phrase. If the expert said that, then how would an arbitrator, or judge, or civil service commission sustain a charge of cheating?"

Clack said that there will be two captains and seven lieutenants elevated in this round of promotions. Of those, the two captains and three of the lieutenants had been accused of cheating.

The chief will present them with their new badges tomorrow. "I will tell them the same thing I tell all of the people I promote: `Be a professional. Be a leader. Do the right thing. Enforce the rules and you will be fine.'"

Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, the head of the fire officers union, offered tepid support for the decision.

"The union's position, which has to be my position, too, is that the inspector general's report did not affirmatively demonstrate that anybody cheated, so all of those members have to be given the presumption of innocence."

He added: "It is not our job to determine guilt and innocence. Our job is to make sure our members get a fair shake, which is what we did."

The city's human resources department administers a promotion test for the fire department every two years. When vacancies arise in the fire department's hierarchy, commanders must fill from that list in order of how the members scored.

The fire unions leveled allegations of cheating immediately after the test, in part because there was a significant gap between the top scorers and the rest of the people who took that test. Those accusation took on a racial component because all of the accused members are black.

Mayor Sheila Dixon ordered the inspector general's office to review the test, and that investigation revealed that at least five firefighters studied from a 2001 exam that included numerous questions identical to those on the most-recent exam.

The probe found that the test monitor slept on duty, firefighters went to the bathroom and used cell phones, numerous people might have had access to the tests before it was given and one firefighter admitted to glancing at the test answers of the person seated next to him. That firefighter scored so low on the test that he is unlikely to be promoted.


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