JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville firefighter is looking for answers after an Action News Jax investigation. Investigator Emily Turner dug into allegations of wrongdoing at the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, (JFRD) Training Academy and whistleblower complaints about questionable promotions.
Action News Jax isn’t identifying the person to protect his job. He has gone to the union, the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, asking them to get to the bottom of it, and if there was an issue, he is made whole.
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We interviewed him about what happened. He told us passing the captain’s promotional exam was his primary focus during the 60 days he had to prepare.
“It’s like 12- 14-hour days of doing nothing but reading over and over and over,” he said.
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But he was disappointed when didn’t make that rank. Too many people passed ahead of him. At first, he said, “I wasn’t mad. You know? I just was like, ‘OK. I’ll be ready for the next one.’”
He missed out on a promotion and didn’t get the 15 percent pay raise that comes with it. He chalked it up to numbers but, “Then your story broke. And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe, just maybe like, there was a problem with that process.’”
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That story was an investigation into at least two 2017 whistleblower complaints about falsified training records at the Fire Academy that they say allowed ineligible people to take a captain’s promotional exam.
Another complaint from the same year the firefighter tested “ ... indicated that this may have been done on more than one occasion.” Turner dug through that case filed with the Office of Inspector General and found at least two members of JFRD leadership also admitted to hearing about it happening.
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From there, the firefighter thought, “2016? Captain promotion? I feel like if it happened once, there’s a possibility it happened somewhere else.” He questioned if someone had taken the exam who should not have. He said it could have made a major difference in his career.
“I would have been promoted to the rank of captain,” he told Turner. “I would have been able to take the next promotional test.” He said not to mention the “monetary value, obviously. It’s just a lot of time and commitment. It’s just gone down the drain.”
So he’s filed a grievance with his union, the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters asking it to “investigate this matter thoroughly and take appropriate action to rectify the situation.” The union asked him to provide the names of unqualified candidates, so he’s getting an attorney to help out.
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In the meantime, union president Randy Wyse said it’s ultimately something the city’s Employee Services, or human resources department, will have to figure out.
“It’s hard to delve into that,” Wyse said. “We don’t have access to the training records and things like that. So, you know, that’s something that they’re going to do and make a determination on it.”
But depending on the outcome, this firefighter may never know if he was cheated out of a promotion or not. That’s because the previous Office of Inspector General (OIG) decided to close the case rather than get to the bottom of it. The OIG memo read, “An audit (of training records) was not completed, and an investigative report was not generated.”
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And that, the firefighter said, leaves too many unanswered questions.
“For me, it just means like, you can’t trust the process,” he said. “It’s unfair, and why even put that time and effort into anything if you can’t be judged fairly?”
The current Inspector General decided not to pursue the issue further, either. Instead, the office notified the Florida Bureau of Fire Standards and Training to take whatever action it deems appropriate. Action News Jax has a request to see what the status is on that.
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