December 16th, 2011 | Nigel Jaquiss News | Posted In: Cops and Courts, City Hall

Target of Leonard's Fire Bureau Probe Proclaims Innocence

Leonard acknowledges a long-time practice of firefighters sharing testing information with colleagues

     
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fire

The man at the center of a Portland Fire & Rescue cheating investigation says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Yesterday, WW broke the story about an investigation into a former senior Fire Bureau training officer and whether he had improperly shared details about the exams firefighters take to advance their ranks and salaries. The Oregonian subsequently identified the subject of the probe as retired Division Chief Scott Fisher.

Today, Fisher spoke to WW in his first interview about the investigation. He told WW that he has done nothing wrong.

Fisher did acknowledge that throughout his career, after he took an exam, he would write down as many questions as he could remember and share that information with other firefighters. 

He said that he added this information to  study materials he created when he led the bureau's training division for a couple of years, ending in 2010. 

"When I retired, I gave my study materials to people," Fisher says.

But he says there was nothing wrong with this practice: The information gleaned from old tests was of limited use, because the bureau never gave the same test twice.

Fisher says that he was interviewed earlier this year by two fire officials and the bureau's top commander, Chief John Klum. He says he thought the interview, which was taped, had put issue behind him. 

"I don't know why this is still going on," he says, of the ongoing investigation.
 
Fisher retired on Oct. 3 after 28 years in the bureau. He says that his departure was long planned and was his choice—it was not connected to the investigation. He believes it was his decision to give away his old test preparation materials when he cleaned out his desk that probably triggered the probe.

The investigation was requested Leonard, who oversees the Fire Bureau. Leonard was a Portland firefighter, retiring in 2002 after nearly 20 years. 

Leonard says that a firefighter alleged in October that Fisher had given him the questions to an old exam.

Leonard's investigation of Fisher is proceeding in somewhat unorthodox fashion.

He said the investigation is "independent." The Oregonian on Friday said the investigation was being carried out by a "a retired Portland police officer."  

But Leonard told WW  that the retired police officer—whom Leonard identified as former Portland Police Commander Bill Sinnott—is currently a Portland Water Bureau employee.

That means the investigator reports to Leonard, who also oversees the Water Bureau. 

Sinnott previously ran a group called the Service Coordination Team, an operation Leonard created to get chronic offenders off downtown streets. Leonard say Sinnott impressed him so much in that role that he hired Sinnott to run security for the Water Bureau.

Leonard says his long ties to the Fire Bureau are not an issue in the investigation.

"[Fisher] is not a friend of mine," Leonard says. "I know him as I know a number of people at the bureau."

Fisher says although he overlapped with Leonard at the bureau, he says they were "never close." He says he cannot remember the last time he talked to him.

Leonard also says that, even though Sinnott reports to him, there should be no question about Sinnott's ability to carry out an independent and complete investigation. 

Leonard says that nothing about his past association with Sinnott undermines the investigation.

"He is fully independent," Leonard says. "If I didn’t want a thorough, independent investigation, I would have asked the fire bureau investigators to do it themselves." 

Leonard says the scope of the alleged misconduct is unclear. He agrees with Fisher that many firefighters often attempt to recreate the tests they have taken and then share their recollections as study aids for their colleagues. 

 "It is common for test takers to leave the test and write down the questions that were asked and try to reconstruct the tests," Leonard says. "That has happened for as long as I know." 

But Leonard says he believes, based on the information he's received, that Fisher actually passed along copies of old tests—which he says is wrong. 

 "To take the old tests and pass them along displays enormously bad judgement." (Fisher denied to WW that he did this.) 

Sinnott is still gathering information, Leonard says, and may do further interviews. 

 "There’s no particular hurry," Leonard says. "I want [the investigation] to be thorough. I wanted him to talk to people indirectly and directly related to the situation."


 
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