Chief of the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department takes sweeping action

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Chief of the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department is taking sweeping action after an Action News Jax Investigation exposed questions about how the department promotes its first responders. It’s a move to provide accountability and answers.

In an exclusive sit down interview with Chief Keith Powers he said, “The community needs to know that they can trust us and know that we have the most qualified people coming to them in their times of need.”

The move comes after our series of stories looking in to the department, starting with one about then-Chief Todd Smith. He was accused of sexually harassing a law enforcement officer at the Department of Homeland Security Conference last summer. Then, submitted an almost $10,000 request to go back this year with coworkers.


We tried to talk to him on camera, but he took off instead. He was ultimately asked to resign from his position as a result of our reporting. That story also uncovered a case with the Office of Inspector General and a 2016 whistleblower report that said Smith, who was an assistant chief at the time, “falsified training records … in order for [a firefighter] to be eligible for promotion.” It also says that “may have happened on more than one occasion.”

Our investigation into that case found two other whistleblower reports alleging similar issues, specifically centered around one particular promotional exam in 2017. There was enough in those allegations for the Inspector General to call for a full audit of training records.

But Action News Jax found that audit never happened. Nothing did, according to case files, for years. Then, four years later, with no further action, the Inspector General at the time closed the case and “an audit [OF TRAINING RECORDS] was not completed and an investigative report was not generated.”

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That left lots of unanswered questions, especially for one firefighter in particular. He didn’t want to be named to protect his job, but he told Action News Jax, “I feel like if it happened once … there’s a possibility to happen somewhere else.”

He worried he’d been shorted a promotion based on false records like the ones mentioned in the OIG’s report. After seeing our stories, he filed a grievance with the union.

“For me,” he said, “it just means you can’t trust the process. It’s unfair and why even put that time and effort into anything if you can’t be judged fairly.”

That sentiment, along with his own unanswered questions, are what Chief Powers said led him to dig deeper into the allegations and make major moves to put any questions about the promotional process to rest.

“It’s concerning,” he said, “when you read those kinds of accusations. It concerns me as a leader of this department.”

Powers said that Action News Jax’s investigation surprised City Hall and JFRD, both claiming to know nothing about the OIG investigation or whistleblower reports because no formal, final report was ever issued.

“The very day that I got my eyes on it,” Powers said, “And got to read it, I started highlighting and then began to internally look at some of the accusations that were made to see if there was some validity to them, because we need to know that.”

That’s when he launched an audit of each person who took the 2017 promotional exam mentioned in the whistleblower’s reports. He said it took five people at the training academy four days to go through all the records and make sure every person was qualified.

“Everybody was actually eligible for that test,” Powers said. “Which was a big, again, a big relief for me.”

Powers also created a committee to make sure no further questions linger as a result of the allegations. It will look into members of JFRD, Employee Services and the Inspector General and is charged with conducting a “detailed and thorough review of the training records and certificates” for any promotional test or JFRD personnel mentioned in the OIG report Action News Jax uncovered.

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It will also review the credential of 5% of all JFRD uniformed, sworn employees using a randomly generated list.

“At the end of this,’ Investigator Emily Turner asked Powers, “you’ll be able to stand in front of people and say what?”

“That we either have some deficiencies that we need to fix,” Powers said, “or that it validates the same stuff that we’ve already been finding: That there was no accuracy to the whistleblower’s complaint … The point is we have we have an answer.”

Related Reads:

INVESTIGATES: Jacksonville firefighter files complaint to investigate if he was passed over for promotion

INVESTIGATES: Questions over firefighter promotions

INVESTIGATES: Chief of Emergency Services controversy continues

INVESTIGATES: Jacksonville’s Chief of emergency services accused of sexual harassment

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