54 EMTs punished in fake training

Boston suspends workers from Fire Department

By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2011

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The Boston Fire Department suspended 54 firefighters yesterday who were among more than 200 EMTs who state investigators say faked medical training certifications in a fraudulent scheme that came to light last year.

While many private ambulance companies planned to fire emergency medical technicians named in the state public health investigation, the Boston Fire Department began its own yearlong inquiry that concluded yesterday, the department said.

“They did not follow established procedures when they were going to be recertified,’’ said Fire Department spokesman Stephen McDonald. “The state made us aware of it, and we did an investigation.’’

Two instructors were accused in 2010 of falsifying records for 213 emergency medics, at times giving credit for training classes that never took place. The certifications ranged from basic refresher courses to advanced cardiac life support cards, said a state report obtained by the Globe in June 2010.

The subsequent Boston Fire Department investigation found that 20 of the 54 firefighters twice received falsified certifications, and they garnered the harshest punishments: 45-day suspensions without pay.

Those who did it once will take 15-day suspensions without pay.

All of them will have to repay the potentially $1,000 or more stipend the department offered them to take the courses, which are not required of Boston firefighters, McDonald said.

Firefighters take the courses “on their own, on their own time,’’ and they receive a stipend, he said. “It makes the firefighters better trained.’’

The stipend was equal to overtime pay for 37.5 hours for those who did it once and twice that amount for the other 20.

State officials began unearthing details of the schemes after they received tips that EMTs never attended courses for which they were certified.

In the case of Leo Nault, then an employee of Trinity Ambulance in Lowell, 170 EMTs received credit for fictitious classes, the state report said. Nault admitted to collecting between $50 and $125 each for offering the fake credentials.

Mark Culleton, a Lexington firefighter, said he sometimes made up fake test scores, but told state officials he “was just trying to help fellow EMTs who were experiencing some hardship,’’ the report said.

The 213 implicated were a small fraction of the 23,000 EMTs and paramedics in Massachusetts, but the Department of Public Health outlined steps to prevent training fraud, including mandating ethics training or monitoring the courses, said Julia Hurley, a department spokeswoman.

The Department of Public Health suspended the licenses of the EMTs for up to nine months, and the two instructors were banned from practicing in the Commonwealth. A number of them have appealed the suspensions to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

“It’s definitely something that we took very seriously,’’ Hurley said.

In Lexington, seven firefighters were named in the investigation, and five of them filed federal lawsuits against the Public Health Department in an effort to clear themselves.

In Haverhill, where 30 firefighters were named in the scheme, officials rushed last year to assure residents they had enough medical personnel left to respond to emergencies.

Ben Wolford can be reached at