Chief Osby Unveils New Trainee Test, Cheating Sanctions

By March 19, 2015LACoFD News
Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby speaks at the 2011 Firefighters Memorial Service. Photo by Doug Morrison.

LOS ANGELES (March 18, 2015)—Declaring a “new era of testing accountability and fairness” at the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD), Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby unveiled a new Fire Fighter Trainee (FFT) written examination that was given to more than 4,500 applicants Wednesday and Thursday at the Pomona Fairplex.

The written portion of the new test will feature a fresh set of questions and will be administered only once to eliminate the chances that applicants can share answers. Previous versions of the written examination recycled many of the same questions as it was administered nine times over four years.

Going forward, every test that the Department gives to applicants will be materially different than the previous one. And, unlike the former examination, which was given to only 5% of those who applied, the new examination is being offered to every qualified applicant who wants to take it.

“Today we turn the page from our past and are beginning a new era in the 92-year history of the Department,” said Chief Osby. “We’re opening a chapter of test integrity with an exam process that is fair, transparent, and provides equal opportunities for people to work in one of the County’s great public service agencies.”

Meanwhile, Chief Osby disclosed the Department will be recommending disciplinary actions—ranging from suspensions to dismissals—to members of the Department who were identified by the county auditor as possessing and sharing confidential information about the previous FFT entrance exam. Chief Osby scrapped the old test shortly after taking office in 2011.

As of now, fewer than 50 LACFD personnel were implicated by the audit and where substantiated, those personnel will receive letters of intended discipline. Chief Osby said he intends to issue letters of intended discipline within two to three weeks.

“While the numbers show that cheating was far from endemic or widespread, I absolutely will not tolerate any behavior that undermines the integrity of our department,” he said. “We can’t afford the actions of a few to erode the public trust that has been hard-earned by generations of county fire fighters.”

Before they can be offered a job, LACFD recruits must pass both the written and oral portions of the FFT entrance exam. In 2012, Chief Osby initiated an overhaul of both content and test administration as part of a larger effort to recruit a larger and more diverse pool of applicants.

Among the other changes unveiled with this week’s test:

  • Applicants taking the new test must sign a strict confidentiality agreement promising not to discuss the questions and answers.
  • No county employee will have access to the test. Exams will be handled only by PSI Services LLC, the outside firm that wrote it.
  • Exams will be transported to and from the site in an armored truck.
  • The oral exam will be given to all applicants who pass the written test. Previously, only a random number of applicants who passed the written portion of the exam were allowed to take the oral interview.
  • The oral exam also has been revamped. The previous oral exam consisted of several similar questions administered over four years. Now, the oral exam will feature 16 sets of four questions drawn from a bank of 50 possible questions.
  • The LACFD captains serving on the oral exam panels will be prohibited from evaluating anyone who is a friend or relative through blood, marriage, cohabitation or dating.
  • Each oral exam will be audio-recorded.

With the launch of the new FFT entrance exam, Chief Osby said the Department has asked the county’s Department of Human Resources to also review its other merit-based tests, including internal promotional exams.

The Department also expects to issue its first-ever nepotism policy in early April prohibiting department personnel from taking part in the hiring, promotions, performance evaluations or disciplinary actions involving family or friends through blood, marriage, cohabitation or dating.

All of these changes are the result of three years of work by internal and external stakeholders which were assembled by Chief Osby beginning in 2012. The stakeholders included members of LACFD, the County’s Department of Human Resources, Office of the County Counsel, the County’s Equity Oversight Panel, and an outside test vendor.