ABC57 investigates a South Bend Firefighter cheating scandal
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A South Bend Probationary Firefighter is now out of a job. He is one of several local recruits from both South Bend and Mishawaka accused of cheating on a test during their training.
The new recruits in South Bend were sworn in back in June, 2019 with Mayor Pete Buttigieg on hand to pin their new badges on in front of family, friends and supporters but one of those Probationary Firefighters, Chad VanOvergerghe is no longer with the department.
VanOverberghe and the other trainees accused were taking an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician class at Memorial Hospital over the Summer when they allegedly cheated on an open book, online exam.
VanOverberghe even admitted to ABC57 News by phone he actually had the test answers in advance saying, "I had them but they were given out by instructors. They were handed out accidentally."
Most of the firefighters in that class turned the answer sheets back in to the instructor according to sources with knowledge of what happened, but VanOverberghe allegedly did not.
Overberghe also confirmed to ABC57 he resigned from the department on Tuesday November 19th, maintaining he was not fired.
However, an item on the South Bend Board of Public Safety agenda for the very next day, November 20th reads, "Approve Chief's Recommendation of No Permanent Appointment — Chad VanOverberghe.
The new South Bend Fire Chief who made that recommendation, Todd Skwarkan, refused to talk about the cheating investigation on camera but the city released a statement confirming the basic allegations saying:
"Probationary firefighters enrolled in an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician class received discipline as a result of an investigation into irregularities reported to the Fire Department by course instructors. As probationary firefighters, their discipline necessarily was conducted through the Board of Public Safety. The specific infractions varied between each affected probationary firefighter.”
Two other SBFD firefighters were also on the Public Safety Board's agenda that day: David Wakefield and Cole Whitesel. Sources confirm they were both given unpaid time off as a punishment.
Without a doubt, fighting fires is a dangerous profession and proper training is key to saving civilian and fellow firefighter's lives.
Turns out three Mishawaka Probationary Firefighters also got caught up in the same cheating scandal but their names have not been made public.
Mishawaka Fire Chief Bryon Woodward telling ABC57, "We are aware of a possible incident which we are looking into at this time, but we are not able to comment on, or about, any ongoing investigations or personnel matters."
So while the remaining recruits get their full turnout gear and take on a very difficult job protecting the public, the fallout from the cheating scandal may not be over just yet.
ABC57 also contacted Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph County Emergency Medical Services, who run the classes and the tests, but they declined to comment.
The wouldn't answer any questions about whether any action is being taken to prevent such cheating in the future.