MONROE — Police officers cross-training to become firefighters in the city may have used instructors’ materials improperly during academy training, documents provided to The Blade show.
At least one group of officers was provided a large bank of test questions and answers, and previous years’ fire-training academy classes also likely saw the test bank.
The Michigan Office of Firefighter Training is investigating, the city is reviewing the matter, and the firm that publishes the test bank filed a written complaint with Monroe.
Emails provided to The Blade show police officers exchanging a test bank published by Jones and Bartlett Learning. The company is one of three that provides curriculum to the state for firefighter-training courses, which must be completed to become a firefighter.
How much help the test bank provided trainees is debated. Monroe City Manager George Brown said that, though his internal review is ongoing, he’s found no indication that officers cheated in their training or on state exams.
The state firefighters union disagrees.
“This is cheating,” said Mark Docherty, Michigan Professional Firefighters Union president, said. “I don’t know what else to call it.”
Having police officers cross-train as firefighters is a trend in Michigan, either to save money or maintain services during tight budget years.
In 2010, Monroe began a shift toward combining firefighting and police duties by cross-training police officers as “public safety officers,” with pure firefighters slowly phased out.
Veteran police were given the option to train as firefighters. New public safety employees are hired out of the police academy, Mr. Brown said, and must complete the firefighter academy and obtain firefighter certification as a condition of their employment.
City officials were made aware of the test-bank sharing in mid-June, when Jones and Bartlett sent a complaint about what it called the unauthorized use of copyrighted material and alludes to cheating.
“A test misconduct policy should be instituted or, if existing, reviewed to ensure the policy addresses topics such as instructor actions/requirements, candidate conduct during testing, steps to be taken upon suspicion or confirmation of cheating, and more importantly, the necessary updates to procedures that are deemed ineffective,” the letter reads.
That letter also was sent to the Office of Firefighter Training. Director Joseph Grutza said that an ongoing inquiry should be completed soon.
Mr. Brown said the city concedes that staff may have improperly distributed copyrighted material. He said a “management-level” member of the city’s public safety department acknowledged distributing to police officers in the fire academy seven files that included more than 2,000 question and answers.
Mr. Brown declined to say who distributed the files and said he did not know how the Monroe official acquired the test bank.
The state firefighter exam is created by an independent vendor, Mr. Grutza said. While questions from the test bank from Jones and Bartlett may appear on the test, it’s difficult to say how many. He said that was part of his investigation.
Failure by a Monroe public safety officer to complete the fire academy and pass the certification exam would mean they’d be let go.
County fire associations run training academies, choosing the curriculum used and how the academies are formatted.
Mr. Grutza said they are not required to use a final exam, though some do.
Rick Kleinow, president Monroe County Firefighter’s Association, said its academy does not use a final exam but can use the test bank as end-of-chapter tests.
He downplayed the use of the test bank, calling it a “test prep,” and said the public could purchase the test bank online, a point Mr. Brown stressed.
That would seem to contradict Jones and Bartlett’s letter, which says the test bank are only to be licensed to firefighter instructors. Company officials could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Docherty said he is worried that there is a lack of concern about training in cities that have cut fire departments and trained police as public safety officers.
He wants the Monroe officers who used the test banks to go through the fire academy again.
“Here, people die when you mess up,” he said. “It’s something that has to be taken seriously, and I don’t know they are.”
Mr. Brown said that all 33 police officers who went through the academy passed the state certification exam, and he said he’s found no indication so far that any of them cheated on that test.