- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few yesterday outlined plans to re-administer his department's year 2000 promotional examination, which was compromised nearly two years ago when one of the test writers passed answers to firefighters.
The 400 firefighters who took the test in 2000 will be eligible to retake the written portion of the exam April 22 at the D.C. Convention Center, the chief said. They also will be eligible to take the 2002 promotional exam, which will be administered no earlier than July 30.
"These people deserve to be promoted in this department," the chief said. "They have waited a long time."
The results of the written portion of the test were thrown out after it was learned that some firefighters had cheated. The total cost of the exam was about $1.5 million
According to Chief Few, the incident came to light in October 2000 after an anonymous letter containing the test answers was sent to fire department headquarters along with a complaint that more than 30 firefighters nicknamed the "Dirty 30" cheated when they took the test.
The matter was referred to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, whose investigators were able to determine which of the seven department employees with access to the test had passed on the answers. That employee has been on paid administrative leave since last May when the Inspector General's findings were disclosed. He is scheduled to appear before a trial board next month, at which time Chief Few said he could be terminated.
"He put everyone's careers on hold," the chief said. "We don't take it very lightly."
Chief Few said there wasn't any evidence to believe the person who compromised the test did so for profit, nor was there sufficient evidence to substantiate claims that any firefighters used the answers to cheat.
He could not provide any numbers for how many firefighters were suspected of getting the answers in advance of the test, but he said he believed the majority of firefighters were honest.
The new test was written by the federal Office of Personnel Management, rather than internal test writers.
The exam, which is given every even-numbered year, ranks firefighters on a promotional register for a two-year period based on their overall scores.
The written portion of the exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions testing job knowledge. It is worth about half of the overall score, along with a basic writing component and an interpersonal-skills component.
Chief Few said he has consulted with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Margaret Kellems and that both were "supportive" of his plans.
But one department employee who helped write the 2000 exam said firefighters have to review several thousand pages of material for the exam, and three months' notice isn't enough to prepare.
He speculated the test will have to be "dumbed down" to accommodate the lack of study time.
"You're going to have a coloring-book exam, that's what you're going to have," he said.
He said the average scores for the last exam for each promotional grade from firefighter to sergeant, sergeant to lieutenant and lieutenant to captain all failed to reach 50 percent, and he predicted scores would be lower on the retest.
The District does not have a minimum passing score.
Chief Few said firefighters he has spoken with are satisfied with the three months' notice since only the written portion of the exam will be retested.
Lt. Raymond Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said he was asked yesterday at a membership meeting about a retest date and had no new information to provide. He said that he was unaware of the chief's plan until he heard about it from a reporter seeking comment.
"This is the first I've heard about it," he said. "We still haven't received any information from the department."

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