Outside proctor to monitor Las Vegas firefighter recruits

The City of Las Vegas plans to have an outside proctor administer its tests of firefighter recruits at the next academy.

The change is part of the Fire Department’s response to a scandal at the academy that barred 14 recruits from graduating from the 18-week program in February following suspicions of cheating on a written test. The city is planning that step in consultation with the state fire marshal, Interim Fire Chief Steve Smith said Monday.

Meanwhile, the city opened up its applications process for firefighter recruits on Monday. Within 24 minutes, the city received its limit of 500 applications.

In the past, the test proctor has been a city employee who has the necessary state certification, Smith said. The proctor is responsible for making sure the test is taken independently without cheating, gathering the completed test documentation, sending it to the state fire marshal’s office and keeping the paperwork secure.

“Once we were made aware of the weakness in our process we went back and invited the state fire marshal to help us ensure our process was a valid process,” Smith said in an interview.

Officials identified the proctoring of tests as an area that needs improvement. Options under consideration include going with a state-certified proctor who also works for another jurisdiction, or hiring a consultant with the certification.

Smith said he will meet next week with the state fire marshal to discuss the plans more. The state fire marshal’s office is responsible for certifying training programs for firefighters, but doesn’t make hiring decisions.

As part of its effort, the city is also putting forward its academy’s curriculum to the state fire marshal for certification. The curriculum has routine updates to its book editions and schedules, Smith said.

“Once we have their certification, we believe we’ll have a sound process in place and we’ll have qualified cadets at the end of the academy and it will build the community’s trust,” he said.

For the city Fire Department, the cheating rendered useless a $718,984 investment in pay, benefits and training expenses for the 14 recruits. The recruits who participated in the class barred from graduation were allowed to reapply for slots in the next academy. Twelve of the 14 former recruits submitted applications before the city reached the 500-application limit, said Jace Radke, a city spokesman.

There’s still plenty of time to work out the specifics for the academy. The next academy is tentatively scheduled for January 2014.

That time frame is necessary to test and screen applicants. Written tests are scheduled for late July, with physical tests and background checks following for those who pass.

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