Cal Fire is taking measures to clean up its reputation after a state investigation indicated that some academy cadets may have been cheating.
Cal Fire is in the midst of getting ready for the winter, and El Niño, and officials definitely want to put the scandals behind them. But they also say they believe some of the allegations about firefighting training are misleading. The agency wants to dispel any public doubts that some firefighters were not properly trained.
Cal Fire officials said the wildfire agency has taken steps to alleviate any possible public concerns some firefighters might not be qualified.
A statewide California Highway patrol investigation indicated some academy cadets said instructors helped students, including manipulating tests, in order to graduate as many cadets as possible. The investigation also revealed there were reported incidents of Instructors drinking alcohol on the job and sexual harassment.
Cal Fire said it has fired or demoted around 15 employees since the beginning of the year, including the supervising instructor.
"We quickly took measures not only to tighten security but also to limit access to the test questions as well as test answers," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. "As well as taking disciplinary action against those instructors that were part of this issue."
A Bay Area Cal Fire Division Chief declined to comment on the academy scandal directly, but Jim Crawford points out many so-called “cadets” actually are experienced seasonal or full-time firefighters who work every year for Cal Fire units. He points out those that become cadets are usually trying to move up into higher classified jobs such as engineers.
Crawford also said all Cal Fire units actually have a battalion that specializes in training firefighters, even before they reach the academy. He also emphasized problems firefighters face are addressed directly.
"The (battalions) set up an 'improvement program' for that employee to ensure that they're meeting the level of competence they need to be able to do the job,” said Crawford. "There are apprentice programs for entry-level employees and all kinds of 'continuing' education. Hundreds of hours that are spent training and drilling our employees on a regular basis all of the time.”
“Fully accredited academies and schooling are great," he said, "but the unit training is separate from any academy."
Cal Fire units Monday submitted its winter staffing and strategy plans to agency administrators. The agency is accepting firefighter applications until January.