SWITZERLAND CO (FOX19) - Months after a FOX19 NOW investigation into allegations of a fire chief faking fire training records, the state has suspended that chief's fire training certifications. In a January order, the Indiana Firefighting Personnel Standards and Education board voted to suspend Chief Chris See after a list of violations were uncovered.
See, who holds 64 separate state certifications, was awarded the "Indiana Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" honor in August 2003.
Last July, we aired an investigative series into allegations that Jeff Craig Fire Department Chief Chris See had "pencil whipped" fire certifications for several members of his volunteer fire department. See's former deputy chief, Josh Gosciniak, told FOX19 NOW that he personally witnessed. See falsifying fire training records.
"Several times, almost every certification was falsified," Gosciniak said during a June 15 interview. "Most of the classes were falsely done. Like I said, it was regular practice when people didn't show up, you just signed the next time you showed up," Gosciniak said.
We aired our investigation into the allegations on July 3. The next day, an investigator with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security contacted Gosciniak, opening an investigation into the Switzerland County allegations.
STATE FIRE BOARD SUSPENDS CHRIS SEE
On Jan. 16, 2016, the Indiana Firefighting Personnel Standards and Education Board voted to prohibit Chief Chris See from teaching fire training courses. The order came six months after IDHS's fire marshal's office launched an investigation into allegations of "misconduct" against See.
In the January order, the board suspended See's "Fire Instruction I and II/III Certification" for a year. When See's suspension ends in January 2017, he'll remain on probation through January 2018, the state report shows.
When the investigation was opened, See was also working as the Switzerland County Emergency Management Director. See resigned that position July 28, which is the same day IDHS investigators interviewed a fireman who filed a formal complaint against See, claiming See "pencil whipped" his basic firefighter certification.
The Switzerland County Commissioners' office is keeping See's personnel file a secret, denying multiple open records requests from FOX19 NOW to inspect the file. Commissioner Josh South later told us, See resigned for "personal reasons," but South would not give any more detail.
Chris See would also not agree to an interview, telling FOX19 NOW to not contact him by phone or email.
The January order shows See committed seven violations of the state's fire training standards. The state issued the final order on the violations following interviews with Chris See and others who claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the allegations.
Investigators met with See on August 14 at the State Fire Marshal's Office in Indianapolis. There, See provided information on fire training courses he oversaw between 2011 and 2014. The state had those course records under investigation when they questioned See about them, the IDHS report shows.
Investigators found See failed to: "train students to each of the skills" of the basic firefighter courses, "did not manage courses," skills practical examinations "were simulated" and not actually performed, and in one of two mandatory fire certification courses used curriculum "that was 10 years old," the IDHS report shows.
The state gave See until Jan. 28 to appeal the board's findings. IDHS confirmed to FOX19 that See did not file an appeal in this case. Without an appeal, the board considers the order "final," and completed.
DETAILED ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CHRIS SEE
The IDHS internal investigation file shows investigators spent months interviewing witnesses and reviewing files from the Jeff Craig Fire Department. Investigators were investigating training records and class rosters for three separate
fire training courses:
- Nov. 20, 2011: Driver/Operator Pumper truck training
- Feb. 1, 2012: Mandatory Fire Certification
- Dec. 20, 2014: Mandatory Fire Certification
Driver/Operator Pumper truck training Investigators found, See "failed to properly evaluate the skills" portion of the course for the pumper truck training that was alleged to have taken place on Nov. 20, 2011. There were 10 fire candidates who participated in that course, the state's roster shows.
Switzerland County Coroner, Lewis Fritter, was one of the names listed on the roster and a certification naming Fritter was included in the IDHS investigative report.
The course required a minimum of 51 hours of coursework and another 18 hours of testing for certification to operate and drive the JCFD's pumper truck. The IDHS file shows See admitted to investigators during an August 2015 interview that the course was completed in a single day.
Investigators went a step further and pulled fuel spending records for the JCFD pumper truck. Investigators reported finding no evidence of training use of the pumper truck during the November 2011 dates See submitted on the training records.
Instead, IDHS reported an 85 percent increase in fuel spending on that truck between August and September 2011, indicating the timeframe for when "training was actually conducted," the IDHS report shows.
The state listed two separate examples of See's violations in this course: See failed to "properly evaluate the skills" to operate and drive the pumper truck and "failed to evaluate the practical skills" to use the truck.
Mandatory Fire Certification: February 2012
On Feb. 1, 2012, JCFD records show See oversaw a course in basic fire training. This is the first course in the training process of becoming a firefighter in Indiana. IDHS found See did not conduct the training to adhere to the state's fire training standards and failed to "evaluate all skills."
The investigative file shows See's course lasted only a single day. It takes a minimum of 156 hours to complete the course and skills assessment, the See order shows.
IDHS got allegations of "pencil whipped" fire certifications involving Chris See as far back as 2013, the report shows. It happened after Cody Miller was given a second certification for his basic fire certification, the report shows.
Miller was one of the 10 students involved in the February 2012 course under investigation. Miller told FOX19 he received a fire certification from the state following the course, but said he really "didn't earn" the credentials.
IDHS's Barbara Goble, who oversees fire testing and certifications for the state, called Miller to find out why he submitted a second mandatory firefighter certification in 2013 since he already had a valid certification with the state, the report shows.
Miller told Goble the certification he got under See was "pencil whipped" and that his new department wanted him re-certified by another instructor. The report does not show those allegations were ever pursued by IDHS.
The state's report shows See failed to date skills training records in order to show when—and if—a firefighter candidate was trained in a particular skill during the February 2012 course. The state report states See didn't test those students within the 180 days allotted by fire standards and the work those students did complete became invalid.
Mandatory Fire Certification: December 2014
IDHS investigated a second basic firefighter training course conducted by Chief Chris See in December 2014. Investigators detailed multiple violations stemming from that course, including using "curriculum that was 10 years old," the IDHS report shows.
The report shows See "did not teach the skills to standard" and that skills and testing "were simulated and not actually conducted," according to the state's file.
Investigators also found See "failed to complete the training and schedule the practical skills examination within 180 days," which caused the 12 students included on the roster to lose all credit for the coursework they actually completed.
In August 2015, Chris See told FOX19 to no longer contact him at his Yahoo! email address or on his cell phone. See uses both to conduct fire business. The only way we have to contact See is to make trips to Vevay to search for him.
We set out to find Chris See last week, looking to include his side in this report. We spotted See's JCFD battalion truck parked outside the former Switzerland County Emergency Medical Services building in town. We followed See to Carroll County, Kentucky where he was having fire radios worked on.
There was another unidentified JCFD fire staffer with See on the trip to Ky.
After waiting for See for more than an hour, someone inside the business called the Carroll County Sheriff's Office to have us removed from the public right of way where we were waiting on See to leave the business. When the deputy arrived, he walked into the business before approaching FOX19's Jody Barr.
While we were in a conversation with the deputy, the man who was with See pulled the JCFD pickup truck up to the business door and See ran to the truck, trying to get away from our camera.
See did not respond when we attempted to question him about the suspension. See placed his jacket over the passenger window, hiding his face from the camera as the pair drove away.
As of this report, Chief Chris See has not responded to our attempts to include his side of the story regarding the violations and suspension leveled against him.