- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Fire Chief Ronnie Few misled officials about the ranks of two of his top assistants when they participated as judges in an Arlington County Fire Department promotion exam in 1996, according to personnel records and other documents obtained by The Washington Times.
Chief Few, as head of the East Point, Ga., Fire Department, identified one of his aides as a chief and the other as a captain so that they would qualify to judge the field exercises of Arlington County firefighters seeking to become captains. The aides actually held the ranks of sergeant and private in 1996.
Mike Staples, president of the Arlington County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, said any of the 120 candidates who participated in the 1996 captains exam could dispute the results because the county used unqualified judges.
"Obviously when you do these [field exercises], because there is such a high level of subjectivity, it is crucial you have equally qualified people there doing the evaluating," Mr. Staples said. "It would certainly cause us a lot of concern if they were falsifying their credentials in one of the promotional processes."
Arlington County fire officials would not comment about the validity of the test and referred inquiries to county government spokesman Richard Bridges, who declined to comment.
The Washington Times first reported March 13 that Assistant D.C. Fire Chief Gary A. Garland, Assistant Chief Marcus R. Anderson and Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan lied about their professional and educational experience in their resumes and employment applications.
Chief Few, who was hired as the District's fire chief in 2000, appointed the three aides during the past two years under an arrangement with the D.C. Council that allowed him to make the appointments without competition.
In a letter to the East Point Fire Department dated Sept. 13, 1996, Arlington County Fire Chief Edward P. Plaugher directed Chief Few to provide judges "who have achieved the rank of captain or above" to assess the promotional field exercises.
In a response dated Sept. 16, 1996, Chief Garland identified himself as "Training Chief" and Chief Anderson as "Training Officer." At that time, Chief Garland was a sergeant and the training officer and Chief Anderson was a private and the assistant training officer, according to East Point personnel documents obtained by The Times under Georgia's open-records law.
Arlington County fire officials, in answering a Freedom of Information Act request from The Times, said the ranks of the visiting judges were confirmed by the heads of their fire departments. The county's subsequent 1996 correspondence to Chief Few and others referred to the East Point sergeant as "chief" and the private as "captain."
Chiefs Few, Garland and Anderson refused to comment. "They don't want to talk about it," said fire department spokeswoman Lisa Bass.
Chief Few has disputed The Times' reports, saying he promoted the men to the rank of chief when he headed the East Point Fire Department. However, he did not say he appointed any of them to the rank of captain.
Miss Bass yesterday said Chief Few continues to say there was a "two-tier system" of administrative and command ranks at East Point, and the aides held "supervisory positions which gave them the expertise" to participate in the promotional exams.
But four East Point personnel forms signed by Chief Few identify Chief Garland only as a "training officer" and make no mention of a promotion or appointment to the rank of chief. Chief Garland was promoted to lieutenant in 1998.
Also, three personnel documents signed by Chief Few identify Chief Anderson only as an "assistant training officer" and make no mention of a promotion or appointment to the rank of captain or chief. Chief Anderson was promoted to sergeant in 1998.
Chief Few left the East Point Fire Department in 1997 to head the Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., Fire Department.
The jobs for which Chief Few's aides were hired were created at the request of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who asked the D.C. Council to authorize the new positions. In exchange for his carte blanche appointments, Chief Few promised the council not to hire his cronies.
The East Point Fire Department has about 110 workers; the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has 1,920 employees.
Mr. Williams on March 13 directed City Administrator John Koskinen to investigate the aides' resumes.
On Friday, Mr. Koskinen told The Times he was not aware that Chiefs Garland and Anderson had misrepresented their ranks to Arlington County in 1996 and would include that issue in his investigation.
"This is the first I've heard of it," he said. "We take it all seriously, and I will be happy to add that to the issues. We need to find out from Arlington what the situation was and what relevance it is."
Mr. Koskinen said he hopes to complete his investigation this week.
Cortez Lawrence, fire program director for the U.S. Fire Administration, said fire departments that hold assessment centers require honesty from participating departments that provide judges to prevent a portion or all of the promotional examination to be tainted.
Mr. Lawrence, a former instructor at the National Fire Academy who holds a doctorate degree in public policy and administration, said that because Arlington County required that the assessors hold at least the rank of captain that someone with a lesser rank should not have been sent.
"You need to sort this out in front," he said. "If it is not a mistake, it is something your mother would spank you for.
"Neither you nor I can do a background check on everyone. We are relying on the integrity of a third party. Somebody can lie to us and misrepresent themselves," Mr. Lawrence said.
He said that having unqualified assessors does not automatically taint the entire process but could cause portions of the assessment center to be thrown out by people who were not promoted.
Matthew Cella contributed to this report from East Point, Ga.


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