EMS and fire cheating scandals wipe out goodwill

Chiefs and field providers need to change the culture that condones fraud into one that truly determines competency

 This time of year stories abound of public safety departments going above and beyond for their community. Firefighters in Ohio provided meals to folks in need, paramedics delivered toys to hospitalized children in Idaho, and Colorado EMTs dressed in Christmas costumes to bring smiles to patient's faces during transport.

The values of caring and compassion, demonstrated by these goodwill moments, are what we want to be known for providing to our communities.

All of these tinsel and smile moments can be swept away by a single misdeed. Recent news of rampant cheating in both small and large departments erode the goodwill fostered by other emergency responders. 

High-stakes exams for promotion, certification and licensure are designed to evaluate a candidate’s competency in job-required knowledge, skills and attitude. Since these types of exams often lead to a higher rank and salary it’s critical that only those who can demonstrate the minimum standard or higher be able to pass the examination.

The rules need to apply for everyone. Promotion or certification should not be because of a relationship or just being one of the department's good guys.

Compromising any exam through fraud only ensures one thing — that these cheaters don’t care about the integrity of the process. Citizens will agree.

It certainly would be puzzling for a patient to hear the medic say, "I’m not going to be able to treat you for your life-threatening condition because I cheated on that part of the exam." A fire department crew would come under equal suspicion if it were to tell a homeowner that his house burned down because they didn’t actually learn how to mount an interior attack.

Of course, the paramedics or firefighters wouldn’t have to say anything. Instead, the community just has to raise a question about competency because the cheaters left the door of suspicion wide open.

The lack of confidence can lead to other issues with bigger consequences. How will property owners feel if they suspect a large part of their annual taxes go to a service that is filled with cheats and liars?

Government officials might think twice before approving funding for a new station. Legislators might balk at paying for long-term debt associated with pensions.

It only takes a few bad apples to spoil the entire bunch.

Here’s hoping that in the year ahead all departments take a close look at these scandals and work to ensure something similar doesn’t happen in their community. Change the culture that condones fraud into one that really helps determine who is best for the job at hand.

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