SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

August 11, 2009

EMT training difficult to monitor

Limited oversight, broken trust made system vulnerable

As the web of deception involving EMT training unravels, one of the more disturbing threads is how close it all came to remaining secret.

Were it not for one Hamilton police officer — disgruntled over a completely unrelated matter — the public might never have learned the depth of the problem.

An investigation begun last summer by the state agency that oversees licensing for emergency medical technicians and ambulances will culminate Thursday morning with the arraignment of three former police officers, including the Hamilton chief, and an EMT trainer on criminal charges.

The agency began investigating training records in the Hamilton Police Department after Officer Michael Marchand, who is involved is a dispute with the town, blew the whistle on the rogue program. After he told selectmen and nothing appeared to be happening, he turned to the state.

Since then, the events of the past 12 months have shed light on a system that relies almost entirely on trust.

And when that trust was first violated, there was no one in a position to stop it.

Consider the allegations:

Nearly an entire police department, and a portion of another, fabricated attendance records for EMT training, possibly for years, and almost got away with it.

A respected former fire chief who turned to training in his retirement is accused of conniving with a police chief and a former Ipswich selectman (who was also a former Wenham police officer) to make up course attendance sheets, and they nearly got away with it.

An EMT training officer in the Hamilton Police Department is accused of falsifying not only fellow officers' records but his own, which were then used to obtain his certification as a paramedic.

How could it all happen?

"Overall, this system revolves around the idea that people are going to have personal integrity," said John Jacob, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, which oversees EMT training.

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