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Audit shows some Oakland firefighters don't have required certifications

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OAKLAND (CBS SF/BCN) – Three out of four supervisors and six out of 15 inspectors in the Oakland Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau did not have a required certification, a city audit released earlier this month revealed. 

Furthermore, when the Oakland City Auditor's office first inquired about the certification status of the supervisors and inspectors, the auditor's office was told everyone's certifications were up to date. 

The findings come following an anonymous whistleblower complaint, which alleged one supervisor did not have a required certification. A subsequent complaint and an investigation by the auditor's office revealed other employees failed to have their certifications.

Certifications are a minimum requirement for the positions, according to the auditor's office. 

Having the certifications is "critical," City Auditor Courtney Ruby said in an interview. 

Inspectors are ensuring the life and safety of our community, Ruby said. It is unacceptable for them not to have the required certifications, she said.

Not only are the certifications a minimum requirement, but it's also desirable for inspectors to get training beyond what's required for the certification, Ruby said.

"The issues that were the focus of this investigation were created prior to my arrival," Oakland Fire Department Chief Reginald Freeman said earlier this month in a text from his chief of staff. 

He said his office has addressed the issues. 

Freeman became chief in May 2021. The first of two whistleblower complaints were filed in July 2021. Ruby's office let fire officials determine whether the inspectors and supervisors had their required certifications and report back to her. 

Fire officials told her in August 2021 that all inspectors and supervisors had their required certifications.

In December 2021, Ruby's office received another anonymous complaint alleging that the same employee, a supervisor, did not have a required certification. The complaint proved to be accurate. 

Since Freeman began, the Fire Prevention Bureau has been reorganized, the fire chief said in the text. 

The Fire Prevention Bureau is "on pace to meet an unprecedented 100% of state mandated inspections in 2022, while also achieving a 95% compliance rate for our vegetation management inspection program for two consecutive years," he said.

The fire department did not immediately respond to a second request for comment regarding a possible faulty assumption under the chief's watch. 

The fire department may have assumed that the supervisor named in the complaints was certified because the supervisor made the eligible list of candidates for the position.

The report by Ruby's office provided details of the investigation. 

Just before Freeman took the helm at the fire department, an employee was promoted to supervisor in the Fire Prevention Bureau, according to the report.

That employee did not have the required certification then and understood the certification must be obtained before the end of a six-month probationary period, the report said. 

At the end of the probationary period, the supervisor still did not have the certification and as of September 2022 was still managing employees without it, according to the report. 

Several other employees also lacked the certification as of September 2022.

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