MUNCIE, Ind. — The Indiana Department of Homeland Security will be actively monitoring how firefighter certification exams are administered by the Muncie Fire Department following allegations of systemic cheating within the fire department.
“Additional staff have been re-routed to make sure the exams are proctored and handled properly,” IDHS public information officer David Hosick told 13News. “We have sent additional staff from the Fire & Public Safety Academy to sit in on those proctors, and there are plans where we’ve basically taken over oversight on the state certification exams.”
The move comes following a 13News investigation about alleged exam cheating inside the Muncie Fire Department. IDHS acknowledged the agency is investigating claims that one or more high-ranking MFD officials have been collecting hundreds of questions and answers from state and national certification exams, and then sharing them with firefighters and EMTs before or during their tests.
Several Muncie Fire Department staff spoke with 13 Investigates to share firsthand knowledge of cheating they say they observed. They claim high-ranking members of the department who are supposed to be preventing cheating are actually facilitating it.
“The leadership who’s hosting these classes will proctor the exams. They’re taking pictures of computer screens, then down the road actually showing future students pictures of those tests and the questions,” one of the staff members told 13News.
Another staff member recalled being approached by a supervisor prior to taking an EMT exam.
"He said, 'I’d appreciate if you’d give me a call when you’re done with the testing to give me your top five or ten questions that you can remember,'" the staff member said. “That really surprised me, but then I found out he encouraged others to share test questions with him and that he kept a list of questions to share with other students to help them study.”
The four MFD insiders who spoke with 13News did so on the condition of anonymity because they fear retribution for speaking openly.
“A wakeup call for fire departments”
Individuals who want to work as an EMT or paramedic in Indiana must pass a National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam, and test rules strictly prohibit sharing or even discussing actual test questions and answers with others.
A spokesman from the National Registry confirmed for 13News that NREMT is now investigating alleged MFD cheating to protect the integrity of the exams and to help ensure that individuals who passed the tests and earned their EMT and paramedic certifications did so legitimately.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security has launched two additional investigations into the allegations, with the state EMS director and state fire marshal telling 13 Investigates that their offices are actively conducting investigations.
“Integrity is everything and that’s what we want,” Indiana State Fire Marshal Steve Jones told 13News. “There's no shortcuts to becoming a firefighter. There’s no shortcuts to becoming a paramedic or EMT. There will be or could be a consequence to pay if it’s found the allegations are true.”
IDHS said a staff member from the Indiana Fire & Public Safety Academy will be in attendance at all firefighter certification exams offered by the Muncie Fire Department until the state’s ongoing investigations into alleged cheating are complete.
It means as MFD proctors are monitoring exams offered inside the Muncie Fire Department training center, state officials will be monitoring the monitors.
"If nothing else, this is a wakeup call for departments to look at their training practices,” Indiana EMS Director Kraig Kinney told 13News last week.
He said the state investigation could take several months because investigators will be conducting in-person interviews with firefighters and EMTs. Kinney also said investigators are thoroughly reviewing documents provided to the National Registry and the state.
13 Investigates also obtained a copy of those documents, which appear to show dozens of questions and answers allegedly harvested from EMT and firefighter certification exams, as well as internal texts and emails from MFD staff. One of the text messages states, “Do not tell anyone I shared with you… The more you KNOW the material, the better recall you will have afterwards to remember questions.”
“It wasn’t until I saw those documents that I realized just how serious this was,” Kinney said. “I want to make sure Muncie is getting a fair and thorough investigation, but from everything I’m seeing, it sure looks like cheating to me.”
If cheating is confirmed, members of the Muncie Fire Department could lose their certifications to work as firefighters and EMTs, and the state could revoke the entire department’s certification to teach classes and offer exams.
Muncie Fire Chief Robert Mead told 13News the potential consequences are “too big to even think about.” He sent a message to all members of the Muncie Fire Department encouraging them to cooperate with the ongoing investigations.