CBS46 finds fire chief submits fake degree, mayor shrugs - CBS46 News


CBS46 finds fire chief submits fake degree, mayor shrugs it off

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CBS46 has found the chief of the Fairburn Fire Department doesn't have the qualifications for the job he's held since 2005.

Records show Harold Weller, who goes by the name Jody, submitted a degree from a known diploma mill when applying for the job, which required a fire science degree.  

The discovery comes as the city's department deals with high turnover, low morale and a bad public image after the city terminated one of its firefighters who was recovering from cancer.

Through an open records request, investigative reporter Jeff Chirico discovered a Bachelor of Science degree in Weller's personnel file.

The degree was granted by Belford University, a now defunct diploma mill which operated out of Pakistan. A United States district judge shut the company down in 2012.

According to Belford University's archived website, customers were promised they could add degrees to their resume in just 7 days for a cost of $249. Classes weren't offered or required.  

Weller's fake degree is dated Aug. 15, 2005, one month before he applied for the fire chief position.  

When Chirico asked Weller whether he tried to fool the city, Weller said no and drove away. 

"I understand the college degree was preferred, not required," said Fairburn Mayor Mario Avery, who took office after Weller was hired.

Chirico showed Avery the job posting dated June 2005 which states a fire science degree was a requirement.

Avery said he sees no reason to hold Weller accountable for submitting the fake degree. 

"There's nothing [Weller has] done since that shows he's not qualified to be in the position he's in," Avery said.

A separate CBS46 investigation in July found the fire department didn't meet national standards to reduce firefighters' exposure to cancer-causing diesel exhaust in the station.

Weller admitted he hadn't asked city council for the money to purchase diesel exhaust systems recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

Former Fairburn Fire Department lieutenants Mike Hood and Wes Burke said they left the department because of poor management and health concerns.

Hood and Burke pointed out that they could be arrested if they lied about their paramedic credentials to get a job.

"I think a man in [the chief's] position needs to have the training and education to back that position," Burke said.

A fire chief in New Hampshire lost his job for submitting a degree from Belford and several candidates for the NY Fire Department were arrested for doing the same.

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