The Largo Fire Department conducted an internal affairs investigation into potential cheating by five firefighters preparing for a written test for certification as a squad driver.
The squad driver certification allows firefighters to drive and operate specialized equipment and receive extra compensation when they drive the heavy rescue vehicles.
The 2012 written test was reviewed and compared to previous written tests for the special driver's certification. The current test had many exact questions from the earlier written tests, which some firefighters had in their possession, according to the investigation.
The testing process was stopped by the fire department once the written tests were discovered. The five firefighters were suspended between eight and forty hours without pay.
Fire Chief Michael Wallace said it was clear that the test had been "compromised." The department is still trying to determine the source of the written tests, which were allegedly given to the firefighters by senior department employees, Wallace said.
The investigation report said one of the candidates "found study information in his bunk area. He reports the information had been there for at least two years."
The firefighter's union filed grievances requesting back pay, benefits and exoneration of all charges. The union said its members were not formally notified of the change in work conditions that disallowed the use of a copy of a written test as authorized study materials.
The "practice of sharing information that has been acceptable, allowed and even promoted by current and former fire administrations," wrote Dale Rosko President of the Largo Professional Firefighters, IAFF, Local 2427.
The firefighters were "never properly noticed of any change in regards to the testing procedure or that (their) actions were no longer allowable," Rosko wrote.
Wallace said the firefighters are given all the study materials they need to pass the test, but the policy has never been that it is "okay to cheat," he said.
The union and the city have not yet met concerning the grievances, Wallace said.
The fire department plans to create a new written test.