The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has alerted the President and Congress that leadership at the Niagara Falls, N.Y. Air Reserve Station Fire Department (NFARSFD) submitted falsified records for firefighting and safety training that employees never received. NFARSFD provides fire protection and emergency response services to the Niagara Air Reserve Station, 914 Air Refueling Wing (ARW), including response to medical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, rescue calls, and incidents involving hazardous materials. A former NFARSFD firefighter-turned whistleblower disclosed to OSC allegations of systemic fraud in the Department’s training and certification program, which OSC referred for investigation.
A report by the Air Force largely substantiated the allegations, finding that from 2017–2019, over 120 NFARSDF employees received credit for trainings they did not attend, 41 instructors submitted false training documents for validation, and six NFARSFD employees improperly verified false training documents. The evidence showed many NFARSFD employees – both students and instructors – on leave during the reported training courses, which they could not have reasonably taken or taught. Students also received credit for multiple training courses that overlapped, including courses taught by different instructors that occurred on the same date and time.
According to the report, the conduct of three NFARSFD officials constituted gross mismanagement because untrained emergency personnel had responded to incidents which could have placed the responders at risk and compromised public safety. These officials failed to ensure proper internal controls to monitor and verify training compliance. The agency indicated it would consider disciplinary action for these individuals.
Given the reports’ conclusions, ARW base command in 2021 realigned NFARSFD to report directly to the 914 ARW Mission Support Group Commander to improve oversight and provide clear, concise communication through a direct chain of command. ARW also implemented a revised training schedule to complete make-up training, as well as regular audits to verify training attendance and record keeping.
“These trainings are intended to instruct first responders on procedures and protocols to handle life-threatening emergency situations,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “It is unconscionable that so many employees and instructors whose job is to save lives would be complicit in this type of fraud. I thank the whistleblower for disclosing these very serious allegations and appreciate the Air Force for taking comprehensive steps to ensure training certifications are verified.”