CAL FIRE’s academy accused of improper testing procedures

CAL FIREMore allegations of improper activities have emerged about the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s firefighter academy in Ione.

They are still dealing with repercussions from earlier scandals. Within the last year one of the instructors was convicted of the murder of his mistress, and 16 either resigned, were fired, or were disciplined. All of the disciplined employees were replaced at the academy following charges that included drinking on duty, using state property to meet with prostitutes, and sexual harassment. In March Ken Pimlott, Director of CAL FIRE, felt the need to deal publicly with the scandal when he addressed the issue in a Legislature budget hearing.

Now according to the Sacramento Bee there are new allegations of questionable practices related to administering tests at the school. Below is an excerpt from the article:

For more than an hour in August 2014, Shannon Browne sat with investigators at CHP’s Valley Division office in Sacramento, at first hesitant, then growing more confident as she laid out her concerns. Instructors were manipulating scores on tests at Cal Fire’s firefighting academy in Ione, she told the officers.


“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, we’re not teaching this correctly,’ and keeping (the questions) … they were just passing students,” Browne said during a 70-minute interview recorded by the investigators. “They were going to pass everyone … and I know that this is a safety issue. This is someone’s safety and life, and other people are depending on them. … They (the cadets) should not be passed if they don’t know the material. I mean, these are critical basic skills.”

Lawsuit alleges CAL FIRE misrepresented death benefits to families of deceased pilots

This article first appeared at Fire Aviation.


Families of firefighting pilots killed in the line of duty in California have filed a lawsuit charging that officials in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) intentionally misinformed them of their entitlement to death benefits.

According to the Sacramento Bee,

They “intentionally misrepresented to the survivors that the only available death benefit they might apply for was those available from” the federal government, the claim states. “Cal Fire executives made these representations knowing them to be false, and at the time they were well aware of the existence of benefits required to be paid under (state law).”

The lawsuit lists 14 pilots that were killed while fighting fires in California. Two of those were employees of DynCorp which has a contract to provide pilots and maintenance for the state’s S-2 air tankers. The other 12 worked for air tanker companies under contract to the U.S. Forest Service…

Read the rest at Fire Aviation.

CAL FIRE Director addresses Legislature about scandals at Ione Academy


Ken Pimlott, Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, recently felt the need to deal publicly with the scandal at the agency’s Ione firefighting academy. One of the instructors was charged with the murder of the instructor’s mistress, and 16 either resigned, were fired, or were disciplined. All of the disciplined employees are being replaced at the academy.

Below is the text of a briefing he gave to the first Legislative budget hearing of the year.


“I want to address the recent problems that we have had at our Academy in Ione. As we have briefed your staff, as a result of the allegations made during a murder inquiry involving one of our former employees, I requested an investigation by [California Highway Patrol] CHP into activities at the Academy. I requested their assistance not only because of the serious nature of the allegation, but because I did not know whether the outcome would be administrative or criminal, and so the review would be independent and impartial.

The Investigation:

  • A total of 123 Administrative Interrogations and 40 Investigative Interviews were held throughout the State.
  • The bulk of the interviews were a sampling of students who attended the Academy over the last two years.
  • The investigation also included the forensic analysis of State owned cellular phones, computers, and email accounts.
  • The investigation took from May until December 2014.
  • I have addressed these issues in the following ways:
    • 16 employees were identified for adverse action.
      • One resigned
      • One retired
      • 2 were fired
      • The remainder all received a demotion and some also received suspensions or additional reductions in pay.
  • The State’s law enforcement agency did not find sufficient evidence during this investigation to support any criminal misconduct charges. All the necessary elements of a crime needed for prosecution were not present.
  • As the Director of this Department, you, and the public, expect me to thoroughly investigate allegations of this nature. You also expect me to take action, and to put in place the necessary measures to try to prevent this from happening again.
  • As I take this action, it is my responsibility to ensure that the process as set forth by the State is followed. This is important not only to ensure fair due process to the employees involved, but also (even more critically) to protect the confidentiality of innocent witnesses who have come forward during this process. Unfortunately, with the recent media releases which included the names of witnesses, there is a fear by these witnesses of retaliation, not only by those involved, but by members of their own community.
  • The disciplinary process for the employees is ongoing, and we are working to ensure the integrity of the outcomes is maintained.

However, employee discipline is just the beginning of the steps being taken.

  • There is new management in place at the Academy in Ione. The individuals who have been chosen to fill these positions reflect my values and the values that you and our other stakeholders expect from a public safety agency.
  • None of the disciplined employees remain at the Academy, and they are currently being replaced.
  • The policies and procedures at the Academy are being updated and overhauled.
  • The Academy Student Handbook, including the expected code of conduct, has been updated, and every student is required to review and acknowledge it.
  • I have held a statewide managers meeting, as well as attended regional leadership meetings to address my expectations of our staff.

I and my staff are grateful to you for your time and willingness to meet with us as these events have unfolded. As we move forward, I am happy to provide additional briefings on the steps we have taken to address the issues at our Academy.

CAL FIRE is an organization of over 7,000 men and women who are committed to public safety and the natural resources of this State. We ask these men and women to protect the people and resources of the State, often at great personal cost to them and their families. The actions of the small number of individuals at the Academy should not be allowed to detract from the overwhelming number of dedicated public servants in this Department. As you expect from me, I took action to quickly and thoroughly address the conduct of these individuals to allow CAL FIRE to move forward into the challenges that 2015 will present.”

15 instructors at CAL FIRE’s Ione academy fired or disciplined

Orville Fleming
Orville Fleming

The investigation into the murder of the girlfriend of a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection instructor who worked at the state’s fire academy has resulted in a series of dominoes falling. Two firefighters have been fired, the resignation of a third was accepted, and 13 others will be disciplined. Of the 16 firefighters, 15 were instructors at the academy and the other worked in the field.

Battalion Chief Orville Fleming was found and arrested in October after a 16-day manhunt. An instructor at the agency’s training academy at Ione, California, the 55-year old BC had been charged in the May 1 stabbing death of 26-year old Sarah Jane Douglas, his live-in girlfriend.

Mr. Fleming’s wife had said he and other firefighters had engaged in sex with prostitutes at the academy and said she had seen a tape of such activities. However investigators were not able to find any evidence of the tape.

After the murder Mr. Fleming ditched his CAL FIRE truck and disappeared but was found 16 days later when he left his hideout near his home and boarded a bus to obtain food.

More details are at the Sacramento Bee.

UPDATE: In July, 2015, Mr. Fleming was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.