Officials say EMT staffing adequate

Many still certified despite state action

By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / June 27, 2010

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After learning details of the recertification scandal that identified more than 200 emergency medics in the Boston region — including Haverhill Deputy Fire Chief William Laliberty and former Somerville Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Keenan — Haverhill officials and representatives of area ambulance companies reassured residents that there are enough trained EMTs to respond to emergencies.

The state Department of Public Health last week released a list of 213 emergency workers who failed to take refresher courses to renew their emergency medical technician and paramedic licenses. In some cases, the EMTs — 35 Trinity Ambulance Service employees and 43 workers from Cataldo Ambulance Service — paid for the recertification but did not go to the class, required by the state. The list included 30 Haverhill firefighters, an Essex firefighter, a Lynn firefighter, and a Billerica police officer.

While the state requires recertification, it does not conduct the training, allowing individuals to teach and certify technicians. Last week, the DPH said two men, Leo Nault and Mark Culleton, recertified more than 200 emergency medics. According to the DPH, Nault, a former Trinity employee, charged $50 to $125 for most of the 170 renewals.

With its findings, the DPH has suspended the right for more than one-third of the Haverhill Fire Department — 30 firefighters — to provide emergency medical services. Twenty two firefighters received nine-month suspensions — including Laliberty, a 23-year veteran who makes a base pay of $65,262 a year. Other Haverhill firefighter suspensions ranged from nine months to two years. Jeff Given, who worked for eight years as a Haverhill firefighter and formerly worked for Trinity, received a two-year license suspension and was placed on paid administrative leave last week by the city. The state alleged that Given provided names of firefighters to Nault.

Haverhill firefighters who are certified to provide emergency medical services receive extra pay. According to the city, 76 firefighters are allotted an extra $1,809 a year for work as EMTs; the department’s five paramedics receive $3,166 annually.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini assured residents that the fire department is equipped to cover medical emergencies. Out of the department’s 76 trained medics, 46 remain certified. In addition, Haverhill has a contract with Trinity for its primary emergency medical coverage.

Fiorentini appointed City Solicitor Bill Cox to oversee an internal investigation. Cox said he plans to issue a report next month. Fiorentini said the 30 firefighters could face criminal charges, depending on results of the state investigations.

“I’m not ruling anything out,’’ Fiorentini said, when asked if firefighters could lose their jobs. “I’m very disappointed; this is a breach of the public trust. We expect more of our people. The public has every right to expect better. We’re going to take this matter very seriously; we’re going to investigate it thoroughly and at the end of the investigation I will take action.’’

Haverhill Fire Chief Richard Borden declined comment on the matter and referred questions to Cox. Laliberty could not be reached for comment.

In addition, Haverhill is served by Trinity Ambulance Service — which also covers Lowell, Chelmsford, Groveland, Boxford, and six New Hampshire towns including Danville. With Trinity cutting the 35 emergency workers implicated, it still has 180 EMTs and paramedics, said Trinity spokesman Chris Dick. Trinity has changed its recertification policy and is recommending that first responders be recertified.

Ron Quaranto, chief operating officer at Cataldo Ambulance Service, said his company has begun to replace the 43 workers named by the state and has a roster of 57 EMTS and paramedics. Cataldo provides primary and backup service to 17 communities north of Boston, including Lynn, Somerville, Malden, Peabody, and Saugus.

In downtown Haverhill, the case was a hot topic of conversation last week. Residents said they expected policy changes.

“Somebody should lose their job,’’ said Don Durgin, a Merrimack Street deli cook.

Haverhill’s Len Cabeceiras said firefighters who took part should return extra pay they have already received from the city.

The state also suspended Somerville Deputy Fire Chief Keenan from EMT duties for 45 days. According to city spokesman Michael Meehan, Keenan retired June 16 and had been on sick leave since Nov. 23, 2009. His retirement had been in the works, Meehan said.

Kennan was not involved in day-to-day EMT activities, although he was required to obtain recertification, Meehan said. The city offers recertification, which all of the force but Keenan took, Meehan said.

The suspensions are effective July 1, at which point Keenan will not be with the department. The city is waiting for information from the state to determine what action, if any, can be taken, Meehan said.

Globe correspondent Alix Roy contributed to this report.

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