Ind. firefighters accused of cheating on EMT exam

One firefighter resigned after a total of six firefighters from two municipalities were accused of cheating

Marek Mazurek
South Bend Tribune, Ind.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A South Bend firefighter has resigned from the department, as several local firefighters have been accused of cheating on a training exam.

South Bend probationary firefighters Cole Whitesel and David Wakefield have been disciplined in connection to allegations of cheating on an exam that was part of an emergency medical technician class over the summer, according to the South Bend Fire Department. A third probationary firefighter, Chad VanOverberghe, resigned from the department in connection with the incident, while Whitesel and Wakefield were given unpaid time off.

According to a letter from South Bend Fire Chief Todd Skwarcan to the Board of Public Safety, the department conducted an investigation into an Aug. 12 online exam after course instructors suspected misconduct.

The investigation found Wakefield submitted an incomplete test form to the online portal and received a report of the correct answers. Wakefield then logged onto the test from another web browser and used the correct answers from his prior submission to score 100% on the new exam.

Skwarcan recommended Wakefield be suspended without pay for two eight-hour days for committing, “conduct unbecoming of a firefighter by exploiting a flaw within the testing system and using it to his advantage to cheat on his test.”

Whitesel was suspended for one eight-hour day without pay because he “omitted key information from his responses” when interviewed by a South Bend fire official investigating the incident, according to a separate letter from Skwarcan to the board.

According to ABC57 News, VanOverberghe said trainees in the class were given answers accidentally by an instructor for an online, open-book exam.

When contacted by The Tribune, VanOverberghe declined to answer questions about the incident, saying he was “trying to move on from it.” VanOverberghe did say what he told the news station was accurate.

At the Nov. 20 Board of Public Safety meeting, the board unanimously accepted chief Skwarcan’s recommendation of disciplinary action for Whitesel and Wakefield. All three were sworn in as probationary firefighters on June 5.

Skwarcan declined to comment on the disciplinary measures. The Tribune asked for comment from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; spokesman Mark Bode issued a statement.

“Probationary firefighters enrolled in an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician class received discipline as a result of an investigation into irregularities reported to the Fire Department by course instructors,” Bode’s statement read. “As probationary firefighters, their discipline necessarily was conducted through the Board of Public Safety. The specific infractions varied between each affected probationary firefighter.”

According to ABC57, three Mishawaka probationary firefighters are also accused of cheating on the exam.

Mishawaka Fire Chief Bryon Woodward declined to comment Wednesday when contacted by The Tribune. Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood also declined to comment, saying only, “We are aware of an incident and are investigating the matter.”

The advanced emergency medical technician course is required for area firefighters and trains recruits in the application of advanced types of medical care and medicine. New firefighters are required to complete the course within three years of hire.

The course is run by Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph County Emergency Medical Services.

Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Heidi Prescott provided The Tribune with a prepared statement that read, “We have put new classroom processes and procedures into place to ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again.”

When asked what specific processes and procedures were being enacted, Prescott declined further comment.

Tribune staff writer Howard Dukes contributed to this report.


©2019 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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