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County takes cue from city’s episode to revisit exam practices

Following allegations of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue trainees cheating on state fire marshal professional qualification certification exams, the Clark County Fire Department is investigating its own testing processes.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue training academy’s 2013 class was stripped of its graduation after the 14 trainees were accused of cheated on the written exams regarding the handling of hazardous materials.

The Clark County Fire Department, which, like Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, proctors its own exams, is taking measures to ensure that proper testing procedures are practiced and that test proctors can prevent such problems in the future, according to Erik Pappa, a spokesman for Clark County.

In an open letter sent recently to Nevada’s fire departments, Fire Marshal Peter Mulvihill wrote that effective immediately , all test proctors involved in an examination suspected of cheating will be relieved of their duties until an investigation has been completed; those who have acted improperly will no longer be allowed to proctor exams in the state; agencies will be financially responsible for replacing a proctor found to have acted improperly; and test results of trainees suspected of cheating will be withheld until an investigation is completed.

“We support the state fire marshal in his re-evaluation of the testing processes,” Pappa said in an email. “At the same time, we’re taking this opportunity to evaluate our own testing processes.”

City of Las Vegas spokesman David Riggleman said the city is also conducting its own investigation into the matter, adding that it is a “very unfortunate incident.”

“We lost an entire class of fire fighters — a huge impact to the city,” he said. “That’s 14 vacancies that need to be filled. We’re potentially looking at overtime here.”

While the Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Academy administers the examination of its trainees, the Henderson Fire Department leaves the proctoring to the state, according to Kathleen Richards, a spokeswoman for the city of Henderson.

“Ours is a state-administered exam through the fire marshal service,” she said, adding that there was no need for the city to enact measures to prevent cheating by its trainees.

Representatives of the North Las Vegas Fire Department declined to comment.

The cheating scandal leaves Nevada tax payers on the hook for about $51,000 per recruit, more than $718,000 in total.

Mulvihill wrote that some test proctors have gone as long as four years without official training from the state fire marshal division.

“It is time to revisit the policies and procedures with all proctors and evaluators, therefore, refresher training will be provided this year,” he wrote.

State fire marshal division staff members will travel Nevada to present a “review of the division’s regulations …”

Mulvihill issued a stern warning to all departments in the letter.

“Obtaining a certificate from the State Fire Marshal through fraud or misrepresentation, such as by cheating, is illegal, unprofessional and unacceptable conduct no matter who you are, where you are or why you may attempt to justify it,” he wrote.

He also stressed the importance of the exam proctors in the overall process.

“Our Division relies heavily on the dedicated fire department training staff and officers throughout the state to proctor our exams so that they can be delivered with minimal delay, maximum efficiency and with a high level of service to the fire service community,” he wrote.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at nlister@viewnews.com or 702-383-0492.

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