By Chris Tye

CHICAGO (CBS) — Once per decade, the Chicago Fire Department offers lieutenant exams – a big crack at a promotion for the rank-and-file.

But there was a big crack in the system last week. Thousands of man hours and tax dollars were wasted after the company hired by the city couldn’t administer the test.

CBS 2’s Chris Tye had new details Wednesday evening on the big gaffe.

Climbing ladders in the literal sense might be part of basic training for firefighters, but moving up the career ladder at the CFD is not easy at all.

“Guys studied for years to prepare for this,” said CFD firefighter Mark Egan.

In December, the invites arrived for the lieutenants’ exam. It was to be held at McCormick Place on Monday, Jan. 27, and Tuesday, Jan. 28.

In the exam, 1,600 firefighters are presented

“It’s you speaking just to a computer tape-recorder,” Egan said. “There’s no actual interviewers at the test.”

And like a bad firehose, the kinks came quick.

“Fiasco – it was a disaster,” said Jim Tracy of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

“It didn’t go very well,” Egan said.

The 1,600 test-takers were told the computer system failed to upload the interviews – preventing testing and promotions for those prospective lieutenants who were rallying at CFD Headquarters on Wednesday.

The angry firefighters carried signs reading: “Exam Scam 2020. The City did it again. Chicago Fire Dept’s Grade F-minus.”

The firefighters’ anger is directed toward CPS HR Consulting, the California-based testing company that administers the exam.

CPR HR Consulting has been paid nearly $20 million by the city in the last decade.

The city told CBS 2 the company is expected to cover costs and re-administer the tests at some point. But there is no clarity about repayment for thousands of lost worker hours spent to backfill firefighters’ shifts so the tests could be taken.

“And the taxpayers end up footing the bill,” Tracy said. “It’s ridiculous. Things need to change.”

In addition to the lieutenants’ exam, hundreds of captains hoping to take the chiefs’ exam last week also had their tests scrapped.

CBS 2 reached out to CPS HR Consulting for a better answer on how this kind of gaffe was allowed to occur.

“We are aware of the issues that led to the cancellation of the Chicago Fire Department’s oral exams for lieutenant and battalion chief at the end of January 2020. We want our partners and the city of Chicago, as well as those affected by this error, to know that this was an isolated incident.

“We are working diligently to ensure proper measures are taken to safeguard against this in the future. Additionally, we are working with the city of Chicago to reschedule the exams to the extent necessary as soon as possible.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Chicago Fire Department leadership said they are working to reschedule testing dates, but they are not yet set.

The statement added that this was the first technical issue they have had with the vendor in 10 years.