Firefighters all across Iowa,at both volunteer and career fire departments have been issued invalid certificates over a four year period. An open records request by KWWL reveals that the problem could be as widespread as affecting nearly 560 fire departments in the state.
After the Iowa Department of Public Safety discovered more than 1,700 firefighters and emergency responders in the state have been issued improper credentials, many are wondering if fire staffs in their area can still meet the demands of their communities.
We look to them in those critical moments. Firefighters brave the elements to keep us safe, but what happens when some aren't certified to do so?
No numbers have been released as far as how many firefighters have been affected per each department.
When asked under FOIA, the Iowa DPS said that their information is not broken down county-by-county or by the number of firefighters per department. Instead, they responded with the letters they sent out to 560 fire departments in the state warning them that some of their firefighters may be affected.
The letter sent to the Waterloo Fire Department has been included below.
Although Waterloo Fire Chief Pat Treloar says none of his firefighters have been affected as of yet, there was a close call.
Chief Treloar says his firefighters took certification tests for Fire Fighter II training back in March. When news broke of an internal investigation into the Fire Training Service Bureau in May, he inquired, asking what happened to those 70 exams.
"They had found them in a drawer, in a desk, unmarked, and at that time we hadn't had any indication if they'd been marked, scored, or if anybody had passed," said Chief Treloar.
The certifications are optional, and not required by the state. It's up to each individual agency to determine whether or not they will require their firefighters to be certified. Chief Treloar says the certifications offer base-line training and knowledge, ensuring his fire crew is as prepared as they can be.
"And that's the frustrating thing for me, is that we chose to take this certification on as a department," said Chief Treloar. "We weren't told to do it, we took it on and spent about $3600 of our training budget towards this."
The improperly issued credentials were tied to the department's former employee, Fire Training Service Bureau Certification and Accreditation Coordinator John McPhee. McPhee has been charged with misconduct in office and tampering with records.
The department says a months-long review found that nearly 2,300 certifications were improperly issued to 1,706 firefighters and emergency personnel from February 2012 through February 2016. That's nearly 25 percent of the certifications the agency issued.
Chief Treloar says those 70 exams ask fundamental questions.
"There might be specific questions on hydrant flows, water flow, nozzle pressure, just the base line stuff that most of our guys already knew," said Chief Treloar.
Chief Treloar says DPS is currently working on properly scoring Waterloo's exams. Although the investigation is still unraveling, Chief Treloar says he has confidence in his crew.
"There's no doubt that our ability to serve the community has not been affected whatsoever," said Chief Treloar. "And at no time does this affect our ability to serve the community, or to get out and do the job that's needed to be done. It's just trying to set a base level of education and we build upon that."
DPS says they've only rescored the tests where they could find both the exam and answer keys, which leaves a number of exams that haven't been rescored, and no telling whether that number of invalid certificates will only grow from here.
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