Firefighter Certifications in Question Due to State Error

WELDON, Iowa  --  Firefighters at the Weldon Volunteer Fire Department were previously told they successfully completed Iowa's fire certification program, only to find out this week that they had actually failed.

The fire certifications are not required by the state, but there are fire departments in Iowa that do require them; every fire department in Iowa has its own requirements.

When four Weldon firefighters learned that they had not passed the Firefighter I classification test, they said it was like a bombshell had been dropped on them.

"It's not just the Weldon Fire Department, it's departments throughout the state of Iowa that this is gonna affect," says Training Officer Randy Sharp. "They were told that they passed the class, they got their patches, their certifications and come to find out a year later, the fire service says that somebody was supposed to have graded tests, didn't grade the test, and now we've got our guys that didn't pass."

The Weldon firefighters went through the training last February, but it was not until last week that they were told their certifications were not valid.

"If they didn't pass, I understand that because you get three chances to go back and take the written test. But my problem is you don't wait a year later and tell somebody after you've certified them and everything, 'hey now you didn't pass,'" says Sharp.

In June, Iowa's Division of Criminal Investigation announced it was conducting an investigation involving the Fire Service Training Bureau. The Bureau is the only agency in the state that certifies training programs for firefighters.

DCI said the investigation involves scoring and certification processes for individuals who took classes from the Fire Service Training Bureau. DCI also announced that former Bureau Chief Randal Novak was placed on paid administrative leave on April 25th, 2016.

On that same day, Certification and Accreditation Coordinator John McPhee was also placed on paid administrative leave.

"They're offering free of charge a refresher course for all these guys to take, and they've got to take it within six months or they pull their certifications. Well, we have a small town fire department, eleven members, you know, these guys can't just stop their jobs and their families and go back and take it again," says Sharp.

On Monday, DCI said this is still an ongoing investigation and would make no further comment.

In June, DCI said that it was consulting with the Attorney General's Office about criminal charges, but today the Office said it never received a referral. There seems to be a breakdown in communication between the two groups.

The Des Moines Fire Department will welcome 13 new firefighters later in January. The new hires will finally bring the department to what it considers full staff.

The firefighters' salaries are being paid for with a federal grant.