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City To Retest Thousands Of Firefighter Applicants After Leak

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The City of Austin interviewed about 2,300 applicants earlier this year for jobs as Austin firefighters. Now, they’re going to have to conduct those interviews all over again. That’s after allegations that some applicants were secretly given the interview questions in advance.

Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr says she received an anonymous letter on Tuesday claiming that the quesitons and the scoring grid for AFD’s “structured oral interview” had been given in advance to certain applicants.

Kerr says she’s not sure that the allegations are true, but the letter did contain copies of the questions and the scoring grid. That raises enough concern that the City will have to retest all of the applicants.“The reason we don’t throw that part of the employment process out is [because] it’s an important component," Kerr said during an afternoon news conference at City Hall. "You may remember that its part of it that helps us open the playing field if you will, or the process to more candidates.”

While applicants come back for interviews, the Austin Police Department will investigate where the leak may have come from. Kerr says about 58 city staffers and evaluators had access to the documents.

The City had also contracted out with a Chicago-based consulting firmto handle some of it hiring, though Kerr was insistent that the firm, I/O Solutions, could not have been the source of the leak. The end result is that Austin will not be able to fill the ranks of its Fire Department as quickly as it had hoped.

“It would have been about 35 people in the cadet class, and that was a class that we would have hoped to start in late June. Because of this it will be delayed to maybe late August or early fall," Kerr said.

AFD’s hiring process is the subject of arbitration between the city and the Austin Firefighters Association,the union representing firefighters. The AFD has tried to increase diversity in the ranks, while the Association claims new policies could disadvantage qualified applicants. Association president Bob Nicks took news of the leak as indication that the process is flawed.

“There’s a responsibility that someone has to pay for this sort of thing and its at the top," Nicks said.

Chief Kerr would not say what the punishment is for leaking the test results. She said the city would have to pay another $10,000 to the Chicago-based consulting firm to re-interview the candidates. 

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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