Quantcast

Norwalk to retest fire department candidates due to suspected cheating

Assistant Norwalk Fire Chief Chris King, right, at his ceremonial swearing in 2018. (Harold Cobin)

Updated, 11:53 a.m.: More information.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is discarding the results of its recent firefighter candidate examination due to “concerns about its integrity.”

Those concerns have already resulted in the early retirement of Assistant Fire Chief Chris King. A Wednesday press release indicates that King was suspected of providing test answers to his son. King’s son also resigned from a position with the City, it states, without naming names.

The investigative report, obtained by NancyOnNorwalk through a Freedom of Information Act request, indicates that King sat in on meetings where the oral exam test questions and rating process were discussed. His son’s answers were thought to be too “perfect,” and King “admitted that he violated the trust placed in him.”

Testing was done through the State of Connecticut Firefighter Testing Consortium, at no cost to the City, according to comments made by Fire Chief Gino Gatto in December. The testing company, Industrial/Organizational Solutions, contacted Norwalk in mid-June “regarding concerns about cheating with one of the exam takers from Norwalk,” the press release states.

“Mayor Harry Rilling immediately hired outside counsel to investigate these allegations,” the release states. “The Mayor received the investigative report on Monday, July 20, and met with the Fire Commission in executive session to review the report on July 21. The report concluded that that two members of the department might have disobeyed direct orders to recuse themselves from the testing process because their sons were taking the test. It was also determined that one of those members might have supplied answers to his son.”

It continued, “The member facing the more serious charges was placed on Administrative Leave pending a disciplinary hearing by the Fire Commission. The son, who was also employed by the City of Norwalk, was also placed on Administrative Leave pending a disciplinary hearing. Both father and son tendered their resignations prior to their disciplinary hearings being held.”

Patrick King, an Assistant Building Official, resigned on July 31, Norwalk Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney said Thursday. Assistant Fire Chief Chris King’s retirement was effective July 29.

NancyOnNorwalk was not able to reach Chris King for a response to the allegations.

The Fire Commission determined Tuesday that “there was insufficient evidence that the remaining firefighter disobeyed the order to recuse himself from the process, and therefore they did not render any disciplinary action,” it said. The Commission voted to drop out of the consortium and not use the recent entry-level test results.

“It was my recommendation, and my fellow Fire Commissioners agreed that we should no longer participate in the Consortium,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “This incident raised concerns about the testing program resulting in our decision to conduct our own entry-level exam in the future, which will ensure the test is fair and equal for all candidates.”

Norwalk Communications Manager Josh Morgan confirmed that the IOS did not charge Norwalk a fee to conduct the test, because Norwalk was part of the consortium. He did not know when the testing process would restart, nor have a cost estimate.

The City spent $110,000 three years ago to establish an entry level firefighting list, Gatto said in December.

 

Investigation

There are no suspected improprieties in the administration of the written exam, the investigative report, done by Attorney Craig Thomas Dickinson, of the New Haven firm Littler Mendelson, states.

Dickinson has no previous affiliation with the City of Norwalk or Norwalk Fire Department, the press release states. The investigation was done over four weeks.

In February, a person whose name is redacted asked to be added to the distribution list for information regarding the test, the report states. This person was interviewed on July 7 and admitted attending meetings and phone calls, but not the one where “oral examination question and answer scoring materials were displayed and discussed extensively.” However, attendance wasn’t taken and there was no system to track who had accessed the meeting. Gatto did not participate.

Assistant Norwalk Fire Chief Chris King. (Harold Cobin)

The person denied “using any method of printing or otherwise duplicating the actual testing material, but didn’t recall whether he took notes during the meeting,” the report states.

“He claims that he could not clearly see the screen during the session because he was on the other side of call but could not recall whether or not {redated} desk. …He denies taking any notes during that did so. He also denies receiving any hard copy,” it states.

In May, “the final version of the interview questions was distributed to all consortium Chiefs, as well as {redacted},” Dickinson states. The scoring guide was not shared.

The panel members who scored the oral interview results are not suspected of improprieties, the report states.

Christopher Melite, a Farmington Fire Department member, was “immediately struck” at how closely the candidate’s answer to the first question tracked the Assessor Rating Form, calling the answers “perfect,” the report states. He contacted other panelists, who agreed. Robert Zajac, a South Fire District Lieutenant, said the candidate’s answers were “spot on” and “perfect.” Panelists speculated that perhaps the candidate had taken the test before and/or had prepared thoroughly.

IOS then contacted Rilling and Burney “expressing concern that a Norwalk resident submitted a video interview that ‘shows that the resident was clearly abetted by someone with access to our secure and confidential grading materials – essentially, the answer key,’” the report states.

The candidate later told Burney, Gatto and Dickinson that he’d been coached by his father and had relied on a notebook while taking the interview, the report states. Unnerved, he denied receiving a copy of the questions and rating form. He was asked to go home, get the notebook and provide it to investigators, but did not return to City Hall that day. The notebook he provided the next day did not support the explanation he provided.

Burney, Gatto and Dickinson had the impression that the candidate was not honest “about the extent of information he was  provided  beforehand and that the notes to which he ascribed his success did not corroborate his explanation,” the report states.

The second interviewee was also unnerved when brought in the next day, the report states.

“He initially stated that he hadn’t ‘crossed the line,’” the report states. “When shown the video of {redacted} interview along with the Rating Form, he silently shook his head. When asked why he shook his head, he acknowledged that the video ‘spoke for itself:’ {redacted} clearly followed the order and used key phrases from the Rating Form. Although he persisted in his denial of printing or otherwise capturing an image of the Rating Form to share with {redacted}, he admitted that he violated the trust placed  in him, that he shared more information about  the interview material with {redacted} than he should have, and that it clearly appeared like an integrity/ethics violation.”

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said the allegations would not result in a criminal investigation “at this time.”

“I am disappointed this happened in Norwalk, but thankfully, it appears to have been an isolated incident,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “The men and women of the Norwalk Fire Department have the highest integrity. I am proud of the work they do to protect our community.”

“The Norwalk Fire Department has the highest standards for its firefighters. I am terribly disappointed that those standards have not been met,” Gatto is quoted as saying. “This incident does not reflect the overall character, values, and integrity of the Norwalk Fire Department. The men and women of this department proudly serve the Norwalk community with distinction and honor.”

Investigative Report on Norwalk FD Exam Cheating Allegation_Redacted

34 comments

Babar Sheikh August 12, 2020 at 5:56 pm

Antisemitism last week. Cheating and nepotism this week. Doesn’t sound like the highest integrity and highest standards. Very disappointing for my town. Internalizing the process will leave it vulnerable, its good to have third party organizations administer tests. This wouldn’t have been caught otherwise.

Fast Eddie August 12, 2020 at 9:09 pm

You can only blame one person for this complete breakdown – chief Gino gatto. Did he know that sons of firemen were participating in this test? Yes he did. He should have ensured that no higher ups were involved with the testing, but he FAILED to do so. “Hey, don’t do anything sneaky guys” nod nod, wink wink

Concerned Jewish Resident August 12, 2020 at 9:19 pm

Couldn’t have said it better. @barbara @sam. The fire department apparently has many issues. The anti semitic racist Patrick St. Onge who called jews dirty and smelly is lucky to be getting pushed away from the spot light because of the plethora of issues.

Curious August 12, 2020 at 10:26 pm

After cheating and nepotism are uncovered inside the department, officials decided that testing needs to be handled in-house by the same department?!!?!!!

There is clearly more to the story.

Charles R August 12, 2020 at 10:27 pm

Police and fire unions always endorse this mayor so there are no problems until media or industrial solutions this time discovers a problem. More unsettling, the fire department participated in a test program that identified a problem and the reaction is to no longer participate in the program? They are going to conduct their own testing now so this type of situation can be kept quiet next time

Red Baron August 12, 2020 at 10:49 pm

“The men and women of the Norwalk Fire Department have the highest integrity. I am proud of the work they do to protect our community.”

How high is the integrity of someone who spews anti-semitism and drives a car with a confederate flag on it?

Drew A Blank August 13, 2020 at 9:44 am

The hits keep coming for this outfit. Nepotism, cheating, antisemitism, drug dealing and stealing are what we know…. if you’re the mayor do you really this endorsement? #defundnfd

Bryan Meek August 13, 2020 at 10:40 am

Josh Morgan really earning his paycheck now. Maybe he needs an assistant to handle all the communication coming out of city hall, like when it is ever opening again. Taxpayer revolt happens 10/1. No service. No taxes.

Dave b August 13, 2020 at 11:01 am

Dealing cocaine stealing Equipment favoritism in getting employment one way or another. The police with their special overtime they can’t even help directing traffic when the roads are a nightmare.I’m off for supporting our first responders. But I don’t want somecoked up thief racist coming to save my day.And give the special overtime to people that need it people with no jobs sitting at home. Maybe they’ll actually direct traffic in the time that we need it

Norwalk Fire Lawsuit August 13, 2020 at 11:21 am

Were you on the original eligibility list that now no longer exists? Do you think it is interesting how Norwalk wants to do future testing in-house to keep further incidents and investigations regarding testing quiet? The testing company IO Solutions were the ones who made Norwalk aware of the possible cheating. Who will hold Norwalk accountable now?

Email [email protected]

Bobby Lamb August 13, 2020 at 12:05 pm

What kind of testing company shares the answers on a webinar where they don’t take attendance? Why didn’t they use out of state or retired experts to come up with the questions and answers? I just can’t believe this organization has such lax standards that parents of test takers are given the exam questions and answers in advance. I can see why the city wants nothing to do with them in the future.

NorwalkDown August 13, 2020 at 4:05 pm

It seems like this was a forced action the city put on the individuals being no physical hard evidence to use against the two individuals here. Cheating is cheating but seems like a father can’t help his son out in any sense Why did an assistant building official lose his job over a fire test that was not Norwalk based?

Norwalk Resident August 13, 2020 at 4:34 pm

Lets just put this in perspective here.

So the Norwalk residents who took this test, worked extremely hard, invested their time, energy and money and still scored high enough DESPITE THE CHEATING, to have a shot at being hired are screwed now? All because two of the highest ranking officers in the whole department cheated to benefit their sons? Why are the people on the list being punished because YOUR BEST PEOPLE LACK INTEGRITY? WE didn’t promote them, YOU DID.

I’m so mad at myself for wasting my time on another crooked test when I knew this was going to happen. The fact is that it has always been this way and it will never, EVER change. Then the city wonders why the low turnout for Norwalk residents? Besides the CHEATING, Norwalk is the only town that doesn’t even give residency points. Good luck testing in another town and beating someone who gets anywhere between a 5-15 point head start on a test you need to score 95 or better.

Thanks for wasting our time and money. I hope the department gets completely defunded. Give the tax payers money to the teachers and school system not the cheaters massive pensions.

NorwalkDown August 13, 2020 at 7:31 pm

Chief Gatto should be at fault here He knew his men had access to the test and denied that fact completely. Though what happened, happened he is at fault here along with his men

Little confused August 13, 2020 at 8:03 pm

I don’t understand the nepotism. These so called test questions that were the same questions this company used 2’years ago. Anyone who took this test in previous years and wrote down the questions after the interview had the questions.
For anyone who is trying to turn this into a union issue is wrong. Chiefs are part of the union.

My understanding each candidate got the questions at home this time and had time to prepare for the interview video.

Something doesn’t add up to me and chief king paid the price.

S

Jim McGuire August 13, 2020 at 8:51 pm

“Mayor Harry Rilling immediately hired outside counsel to investigate these allegations,”

Am I the only one to notice that Norwalk taxpayers already employ SIX attorneys ? https://www.norwalkct.org/Directory.aspx?DID=64

SIX already in some way compensated for their time/effort, but outside counsel is needed ?

Here’s your sign

Tysen Canevari August 13, 2020 at 9:21 pm

@Norwalk Resident You hit it on the head. Give the points to the locals. This was taken away by the current administration.

LifelongNorwalker August 14, 2020 at 10:11 am

@NorwalkDown,

This isn’t the first time this father/son combo used the father’s position and influence to cheat (much) more highly-qualified applicants out of the job…how do you think a 25 year old got the assistant building position?

Curious Voter August 14, 2020 at 1:49 pm

@Tyson. This administration wasn’t the one that stopped giving residency points. I believe the last time they were offered was in the 90’s. Maybe this administration can bring residency points back?

Carol Andreoli August 14, 2020 at 4:31 pm

Curious Voter: I served as Fire Commissioner for 8 years during the Moccia Administration and Norwalk residents were given a 5 point advantage, on testing, during that entire period. Tyson is correct.

Tysen Canevari August 14, 2020 at 5:11 pm

Thank you Carol. Harry took from the firemen but not the police. Sound ironic? When my mom passed away the first 2 guys in the door were Norwalk firefighters I personally knew. Something to be said for that.

fishy August 14, 2020 at 5:57 pm

Maybe since the test company was defrauded by these guys via video call the FBI should get a tip off. Then they can go back and investigate how a certain someone, who is related to a certain someone, keeps getting the best scores on all the tests. But hey, he already beat a federal drug charge so I guess they won’t be able to do much

Norwalk Resident August 14, 2020 at 8:03 pm

It doesn’t make sense why the city would not want to support its own. You have life long residents who went through the diverse Norwalk public school system and actually care about the community and people who live here. Many of these residents are more than capable and qualified to do the job and I think MOST towns (Not Norwalk) subscribe to this theory, which is why they give residency points. Seems to me that’s how you would build a good department but then again, what do I know? Clearly whoever is in charge knows better than I do because they’re doing such a wonderful job. Anti-semitism, cheating, theft, drugs. Are you kidding me? This is what happens when you lower the standards, embrace the nepotism and don’t hire the best candidates for the job. A firefighter is supposed to be one of the most honorable and noble professions, which is why I decided to peruse a career in the fire service. You clowns can’t even run a fair test, what does that say about your department? The least you can do for the few of us who didn’t cheat is apologize for your failure to perform something a child could do, instead of just sitting on your iron throne like a bunch of chumps.

Bryan Meek August 15, 2020 at 5:35 am

It’s interesting how some get 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances, while others get immediate termination. Whether it’s forced or voluntary, I wonder if they can then sue the city, and then land another government funded job, or push off a criminal investigation for a few election cycles?

What is our outside counsel bill and settlement fees now over the last 7 years now? Has to be well north of $10 million easy. Mosque, Firetree, Poko, “China” hackers, 400 plus botched commercial revaluations? Why is it we only ever get price tags on the fractional BOE legal matters?

Norwalk4 August 15, 2020 at 8:26 pm

I’m a Norwalk resident went through the testing process and ranked highly after the results were released. Why is the city pulling away from the testing process? If they entered into the consortium to try and get a more diverse and qualified pool to pick from in the first place then stick with it. They want to go back to running their own tests so these sorts of things aren’t spotted again. Everyone who went through the testing process fairly deserves the chance to be hired by the city. Maybe the candidates hired through the consortium would help bring about change in the dept after plenty of recent bad publicity

Disappointed August 15, 2020 at 8:45 pm

Thanks Nancy for reporting this departments corruption. Makes me wonder what events we haven’t heard or more likely covered up. When the city losses confidence in the way a department is being managed it’s time for the COE to go.

FM1 August 16, 2020 at 8:14 am

Hey Brod, you need to step up your game. This is too easy. You thought you were the only one who could type?When are you coming back to work? Any chance you could release your scores?
Has anybody seen the fire Marshal? If you catch him working in his office, buy a lottery ticket. It’s your lucky day.
You want to watch somebody? Watch this guy.
You won’t be wasting your time like a bunch of “chumps”…

Broderick I. Sawyer, Fire Marshal August 19, 2020 at 11:20 pm

@ Where’s the Fire Marshal? and FM1.
Geez, cowards attempting to sully my reputation anonymously, sad. I’m happy that you can type too, so I know that you can read. What exactly are you accusing me of? Here’s my response to your nonsense. Clearly you don’t know me. Fact: I live in Norwalk, I’m always being watched and I’m okay with that! As for a score what score are you referring to, I take a lot of tests. I have no issue if anyone wants to FOIA any of my test scores, including my State of Connecticut scores. Get going on that and please give the documents to NoN to post. If you have enough courage to give me your name(s) I’ll pay for it! Clearly I may have a few that for whatever reason dislike me immensely. I encourage anyone to look at my record, credentials, speak with anyone that knows me, worked, played sports or went to school with me during my lifetime in Norwalk. I’m not sure why anyone would use me to deflect from the recent issues at the fire department. Pretty stupid. I’m going to continue to do my job the best I can for Norwalk, you can be sure of that.

@Norwalk Resident and any one else preparing to test.
I encourage you not to give up on becoming a Norwalk Firefighter. I took the Norwalk test in the late 80’s and that test was also thrown out. I became a rookie firefighter in Norwalk at 44, in 2016 I became the Fire Marshal for Norwalk. I have personal knowledge of your feeling of discouragement and anger, it sucks! Please stay in shape and you have to keep testing, not just in Norwalk. It’s a great career! Don’t give up! Good luck!

Meghead August 24, 2020 at 8:36 am

Funny thing happened, @Where’s the Fire Marshal? and @FM1, I called the fire house to request an appointment with @Broderick I. Sawyer, Fire Marshal, and was able to meet with him the next day. Typically, that’s the way one goes about seeing a public official. Further, it actually bodes WELL for Norwalk that its Fire Marshal is not at the station, since that usually indicates that’s he’s out in the community, DOING HIS JOB! With the massive nincompoopery, cronyism, nepotism and rubber-stamping typical of Norwalk, I don’t envy the magnitude of the scope of the mess that the fire marshal is tasked with, trying to keep Norwalkers and his crew safe. If you’re content with a titular fire marshal, a mere desk jockey, more power to you. I hope that you live and work in places that are up to code! (Good luck with that, in Norwalk!)

Thank you, Broddy, for all you do for Norwalk and its residents! Stay safe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>