LOWELL -- More than a dozen paramedics and EMTs have been pulled off ambulances at Trinity EMS for obtaining false emergency training certification.
Trinity co-owner and President, John Chemaly told The Sun that about 25 employees have been temporarily suspended from their duties since Monday. The newspaper learned yesterday that the state's Office of Emergency Medical Services is investigating "recertification issues" mainly stemming from the company's Haverhill office. At least five employees have been temporarily pulled from ambulances in Lowell as well, Chemaly said.
One of the company's employees under investigation is a state-certified instructor who has falsely issued certificates without actually training people, Chemaly said.
Sources told The Sun that instructor's name is Leo Nault. Chemaly declined to name any employees until the state's investigation is complete. Nault did not return phone calls seeking comment last night.
"We are working with and investigating some people that work for Trinity Ambulance in Haverhill on some recertification issues," said Jennifer Maley, a spokeswoman for the state's Office of Emergency Medical Services.
But Trinity's president said it was his company that alerted the state to the problem.
News that surfaced last week about the owner of a Billerica EMT training company who is under investigation for improperly issuing certificates raised a red flag, Chemaly said. On March 6, The Sun reported that Mark Culleton, of 17 Wildbrook Road, Billerica, issued CPR certificates to Lexington firefighters who did not attend the state-required recertification course, according to Lexington Town Manager Carl Valente.
"As a result of what occurred in Billerica, we did a self-study here," Chemaly said. "We took samples of recertification credentials and found that some employees were involved with a rogue instructor that took their money, but some of the classes were not conducted. But they still got certification."
Chemaly said the system -- that requires EMTs and paramedics to renew their certification every two years -- has seemed to work well in the past. Each employee is responsible for obtaining his or her own certification. But now the system, which relies on an instructor's word, and the signature of the student, that training hours have been met, has fallen under scrutiny by the state, as more cases of false certificates are popping up.
Certification is also in question for some firefighters associated with the Haverhill Fire Department.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said yesterday that allegations have been made against a number of Haverhill firefighters with EMT training.
"There are between 23 and 29 right now," he said. "We're looking at this and taking it very seriously."
Liability for emergency medical workers carrying false certification while on the job is also a big concern.
Chemaly said the Trinity employees that have been removed from their posts are currently taking the necessary EMT training for recertification and should be back on the job again next week. The certificates will be approved by the state directly, Chemaly said.
"The state didn't realize classes weren't being held," Chemaly said. "Whether the state realizes it or not, our EMTs are caught in the middle."
But Chemaly also acknowledged employees with improper certification signed off on taking classes, even though they knew they did not complete the training.
"They should know what's going on," Chemaly said. "We didn't know. We just look at the card. Some of these employees should have been aware."
Lexington began looking into Culleton, owner of Life Saving Maneuvers, which is based out of his Billerica home, after the state contacted the town's fire chief regarding an anonymous allegation over Culleton's activities.
Culleton was also a part-time adjunct professor at Middlesex Community College.
The state Office of Emergency Medical Services is also investigating people associated with the Lexington Fire Department.
Chemaly said yesterday that his employee who was falsifying classes necessary for recertification did not certify any of Trinity's employees, and none of the training classes were conducted on Trinity property.
"They were done in New Hampshire and elsewhere," Chemaly said.
Besides Haverhill, the Lowell-based Trinity EMS, Inc., also has offices in Lowell, Haverhill, Boxford and a half-dozen towns in southeastern New Hampshire, including Atkinson, Danville, Hampstead, Newton, Sandown and Plaistow.
Suzanne Prentiss, Bureau Chief of New Hampshire's Emergency Medical Services division, was unable to be reached for comment yesterday.