No Evidence White Firefighters Cheated on Test -- Report

Categories: Law & Order
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Did the Department of Human Resources douse a racial inferno in the Fire Department?
City investigators say white officers in the San Francisco Fire Department did not give their caucasian subordinates an unfair leg up on a promotion exam, as had been alleged in an earlier complaint.

On Feb. 16, I wrote about how the San Francisco Black Firefighters Association leveled a racially charged allegation saying the city had failed to fully investigate accusations that white officers had coached select SFFD employees specialized firefighting topics prior to a promotion exam.

But now a new Department of Human Resources investigation of the Fire Department's testing process says the accusations are unfounded. In my February column, I quoted African American firefighter Kevin Taylor saying he had blown  the whistle on what he believed was evidence of cheating. According to the column:

A senior SFFD officer helped white colleagues cheat on an advancement exam. By the fall, when the exams had been completed, the city's two black assistant fire chiefs scored somewhat poorly and retired rather than face demotion. Lower-ranking firefighters, meanwhile, placed at the top of a list of officers eligible to be promoted. "And they're all white males," Taylor says.

At issue was a conversation overheard by Taylor, in which Kenney and another officer discussed techniques for positioning firefighting apparatus. To Taylor, it seemed like the white officers were huddling prior to a play in which white officers would obtain key test information prior to the promotion exam.

However, according to a new city investigative report released in response to an SF Weekly public records request:

"Assistant Chief Kenney (who was also on the answer key committee) and Deputy. Chief Gardner did not have confidential information about the examination at that time, nor had the preparation manuals been published."
The report also said that there was nothing unusual about senior explaining firefighting tactics, irrespective of whether or not there was an upcoming test:

It was acceptable for Assistant Chief Kenney to answer a subordinate's question about apparatus placement or fire tactics -- whether it was a question in relation to a specific issue at a fue scene, or a hypothetical question about a fire scene -- at the time of the mid-June chiefs' meeting. Witnesses explained that the chiefs discuss apparatus placement in detail during their meetings with their battalion chiefs, and the battalion chiefs are in turn expected to impart that knowledge and information to their subordinates, because subordinate officers learn through the experience they gain on the job and from their superiors.
We've placed a call with San Francisco Black Firefighters Association, and will update you when we hear back.

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