Written fire exam tossed out
Potential recruits will have to retake it after officials discover an available practice test
A practice test purchased by potential firefighter recruits was too close to the real test, forcing 2,309 applicants to retake the written examination, city officials said yesterday.
"We had our examination staff take a look at both to make an assessment, and they felt it was sufficiently close to provide that unfair advantage," said City Human Resources Director Ken Nakamatsu.
He said the city did not know at the time the test was given that Illinois-based I/O Solutions Inc., the vendor that provided the test, also sold the practice test.
"We weren't aware that they would have practice tests available on their Web site. Had we known that, of course, we would have reconsidered whether we would have used that vendor," he said.
Not all of the applicants knew that a practice test and study guide were for sale by the vendor, which gave those who had the practice test an unfair edge, he said. Although five candidates purchased the tests, officials said countless others could have had access to those tests.
"Had we been aware of it, as an example, we would have notified all of the applicants that the practice test was available," Nakamatsu said. "It wasn't well known that anybody who was interested in getting better prepared could access (the company's) Web site. That would've gone a long way, I think ... in our assessment of whether an unfair advantage was provided."
The three-hour written test was administered Sept. 10 and has already been scored, but those scores will be tossed.
A new test will be given on Feb. 25 using a different vendor. The retake will be open to those who took the first test and will only be given on that day. The city will notify applicants of the retake by letter.
"We know we're going (to) inconvenience some people," Nakamatsu said. "We decided the fairest thing to do is ... start new -- everybody retake it."
Nakamatsu said that the vendor is being asked to reimburse the city the $23,500 cost of administering the written test. The company has not yet responded.
It is the second time this year the city has had problems with testing for firefighter recruits.
In October the city canceled a scheduled video test after some applicants took a practice video test that was too similar. That contractor -- Ergometrics and Applied Research Inc. of Washington state -- reimbursed $8,000 to the city.
Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi said the retake will cause a three-month delay in getting a new list of recruits completed.
"We don't think it's going to affect us in any way," Leonardi said. "We understand the situation. We think the integrity of the system is important. Therefore, we support the efforts of (human resources) to do a new recruit exam."
Nakamatsu said in future contracts, the city will ensure that vendors do not sell practice tests.