Chicago Fire Department Forced to Cancel Lieutenant and Battalion Chief Promotional Exams

Chicago Sun Times Article:

“Chicago’s police and fire exams have been plagued for decades by a series of testing problems and bias claims that have triggered a seemingly endless string of lawsuits.

Now, there’s another chapter to add to that sorry saga.

Hundreds of candidates who had studied for months in hopes of being promoted to lieutenant and battalion chief were sent home from McCormick Place this week after a widespread computer failure made it impossible to continue oral exams for both positions.

California-based CPS HR Consulting was paid $1.4 million to administer the oral exam to roughly 1,600 firefighters vying to become lieutenants and more than 117 candidates for battalion chief.

It was the first lieutenant exam in eight years, and the first for battalion chief in two years.

The cost of a re-test, when there is one, will be absorbed by the vendor, City Hall sources said. It was not clear if the contractor would also be required to cover costs associated with having firefighters fill in for the test-takers.

During oral exams, candidates sit in front of computer terminals wearing noise-cancelling headphones. After viewing video-scenarios of fire scenes, hazardous materials incidents, terrorist attacks and other emergency scenes, they are required to answer questions about what actions they would take and what orders they would deliver.

Their verbal answers are recorded and scored later. Security is so tight, candidates are sequestered in one building at McCormick Place before riding buses to another building to take the test.

On Monday, some of the computers started to fail, delaying some of the 700 would-be lieutenants for hours.


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On Tuesday, the problems escalated. Computers linked to the company’s network “started freezing up and failing” while candidates were taking the exam.

When the failures “cascaded,” as one source put it, hundreds of angry candidates were sent home.

Alarmed by the Monday problems that forced some candidates to complete the one-hour test “around midnight,” Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II went to McCormick Place on Tuesday to see for himself how day two was going.

When Ford was told the problems had only gotten worse, he pulled the plug and was booed when he announced the cancellation, according to the testing company.

“People were sitting around [Monday] waiting for computers to be repaired. He didn’t want members to go through that again. At his urging and in consultation with vendors, they decided to send people home,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

In a follow-up email, Langford said the Chicago Fire Department “expects nothing less than a seamless administration” of its entry-level and promotional exams.


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