Haverhill has removed 29 firefighters from EMT duty as it investigates whether they received emergency medical recertification without attending classes, Mayor James Fiorentini said yesterday.
Investigators are looking into reports that firefighters from several other communities also were recertified for their roles as emergency medical technicians without receiving the required training, Fiorentini said.
Firefighters who are EMTs work on ambulances and other rescue vehicles that respond to emergencies such as car crashes and heart attacks. They also receive extra pay in Haverhill of about $1,500 a year.
In addition, officials of Haverhill-based Trinity EMS ambulance company, which serves several Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire communities, said they have removed 25 of their workers from EMT and paramedic duties. The officials said the company is investigating reports that those workers also failed to attend recertification classes, even though they had documentation that they did attend.
State officials confirmed they are looking into the matter.
"We are investigating and working with Trinity Ambulance regarding recertification issues for employees," said Jennifer Manley, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, which oversees the Office of Emergency Medical Services. She refused to say anything further.
Chris Dick, director of marketing for Trinity, said the company reviewed the recertification status of its own workers after learning that two fire departments and another ambulance company had employees whose certifications were not up to date.
"We said, 'Let's take a look internally,'" Dick said.
When they found that some of their workers had certification problems, Trinity executives reported the situation to the state and grounded the employees involved, Dick said.
"We pulled these people off the trucks," he said.
He said "rogue trainers" had either run courses that were not "full-fledged" instruction, or in some cases, the courses did not take place. Asked to identify the "rogue trainers," Dick said he could not because the situation is being investigated by the state.
Dick said employees signed up for the recertification courses, their names were listed on rosters, but the courses never took place in some instances. He said all of Trinity's EMTs and paramedics have their initial certifications, but they are required by law to be recertified every two years.
"EMTs are responsible for getting themselves recertified," he said.
Asked if emergency services in Haverhill and other communities will be affected by the investigation, Dick said, "We're not skipping a beat." Trinity EMS has 250 employees and the shifts of the absent workers will be filled, he said.
Besides Haverhill, Trinity EMS serves Groveland, Boxford, Lowell, Chelmsford, as well as the New Hampshire towns of Atkinson, Plaistow, Danville, Sandown, Newton and Hampstead.
The employees who are temporarily not going on calls will receive refresher courses and Dick said he expects they will all be recertified by Wednesday.
Asked if the EMTs and paramedics might be at fault, Dick said, "We're still trying to find out exactly what happened."
Fiorentini said he has told fire Chief Richard Borden and police Chief Alan DeNaro to investigate the matter involving Haverhill firefighters. The mayor said he wants police involved because of their expertise in interviewing people and because there is the possibility of criminal charges if there is evidence the allegations are correct. If that happens, he said, "We will take immediate and swift disciplinary action.''
"This is, at this point, an investigation only," Fiorentini said. "No charges have been made against any individual. All persons are entitled to a presumption of innocence. I ask everyone to refrain from judgment and not to draw any conclusions until the investigation is complete.''
Fiorentini said he did not know where Haverhill firefighters were supposed to receive their recertification and Trinity officials refused to say during the investigation where their workers are recertified.
The owner of a Billerica EMT training company, who also is a Lexington firefighter, is under investigation for allegedly giving fellow firefighters and private ambulance workers CPR certificates without actually training them, according to published reports.
Mark Culleton, of Billerica, issued CPR certificates to Lexington firefighters even though they did not attend the state-required recertification course, said Lexington Town Manager Carl Valente. Culleton also is being investigated by the state's Office of Emergency Medical Services for allegedly improperly recertifying EMTs and paramedics employed by Cataldo Ambulance, Valente said.
Last summer, Hamilton was part of a similar investigation. In August, former police Chief Walter Cullen was among four people indicted on public corruption charges after a grand jury investigation into falsified EMT training records.
Also indicted were: David Mastrianni, the former chief's son-in-law, who ran the Police Department's EMT training program; Henry Michalski Jr., a former fire chief in Ipswich and Middleton, who also was an EMT trainer; and James W. Foley, a former three-term Ipswich selectman and Wenham police officer.
Cullen is charged with two counts of violating state emergency medical service training laws by failing to complete a 24-hour refresher course and a 28-hour continuing education requirement, and with felony larceny and procurement fraud for allegedly collecting a salary that was based, in part, on his representations that he was qualified to act as director of the town's ambulance and emergency medical services.
Prosecutors said Mastrianni repeatedly submitted false statements about class attendance in filings with the Department of Public Health.
More serious charges of perjury and attempted obstruction of justice were handed up against former Ipswich and Middleton fire Chief Henry Michalski Jr., who is charged not only with making false statements about training classes and the attendance rosters, but with lying to the grand jury about it.
Foley was indicted on a charge of attempted obstruction of justice and violating EMS rules.
The investigation was led by Attorney General Martha Coakley's public corruption unit.
Methuen fire Chief Steven Buote said yesterday he was unaware that the state investigation that focused on the company in Billerica was affecting any area communities.
"We contract a professional training company out of New Hampshire that comes a minimum of four times a month and they train my people on duty."
Andover fire Chief Michael Mansfield said his department has not been contacted by the state and has not been affected by the investigation.
"It's an unfortunate incident and it gives the people who are doing a great professional job a black eye," said Mansfield.
Mansfield is confident such a scam wouldn't happen in Andover or any place where officials take a hands-on approach to training.