LOWELL - Trinity EMS workers who were suspended from duty last week for not having proper emergency medical-training certification were back on the job yesterday while the state continues a widespread investigation into EMT training fraud.
The Department of Public Health launched its investigation after a series of complaints alleging that several emergency medical workers were signing off on state-required training classes without actually taking them.
Once the state began looking deeper into the matter, "we found instances that led us to broaden our scope," said Jennifer Manley, a DPH spokesperson.
It was unclear yesterday how many ambulance companies, as well as EMT-certified firefighters and police officers, are part of the probe.
"We are actively investigating and working in cooperation with several ambulance companies," said Manley in a written statement.
EMTs who did not correctly complete the training were directed to retake the course right away, Manley said. For Trinity EMS, that included about 30 employees, including five in Lowell and the rest in Haverhill, said John Chemaly, Trinity's president and co-owner.
All employees were recertified and back on the job yesterday, Chemaly said.
"We're waiting for the state to finish its investigation before we make any further decisions," Chemaly said. "We'll take each individual on a case-by-case basis once the state's investigation has been completed."
In the meantime, Chemaly said his "hands are tied" until the state's work is complete.
Emergency medical workers must renew their certification every two years through classroom hours and a practical exam. EMTs and paramedics are required to obtain that training on their own, through a number of state-certified instructors who offer classes at various colleges, schools and municipal buildings all year long.
Several instructors are also on watch for issuing certificates without teaching the training courses.
Mark Culleton, who owns and operates Life Saving Maneuvers of Billerica, is also under investigation for giving firefighters and private ambulance workers CPR certificates without actually training them.
Leo Nault, a state-certified instructor employed at Trinity EMS, is part of the state's investigation as well. Chemaly said Trinity is conducting its own review into Nault to see "how far-reaching his effect is with (Trinity) employees."
Last week Chemaly told The Sun that Nault, who teaches EMT certification classes throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, had not issued refresher certificates to any Trinity employees and that none of the no-show training took place on Trinity property.
News of EMT training fraud is also hurting the hundreds of certified private ambulance and municipal EMTs in Massachusetts who do follow the law, said Mark Forgues, a state-certified instructor who teaches EMT and paramedic courses statewide, including at MIT where's he an adjunct professor of emergency care, and at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
"They make us all look bad because it shakes the public's trust in what we do," Forgues said. "While these courses often go over basic life-saving skills, once in a while you're going to be reminded of something you forgot or you're going to learn something new."
The bigger problem, Forgues added, is that instructors "didn't do this in isolation."
"People signed off on these courses, acknowledging that they took them, with full knowledge that they didn't attend classes or complete the full course," he said. "But the bottom line is somebody is cutting corners and they're cutting corners because they don't think they need to do the work. Well, for the rest of us -- and there's a lot more of us who do the required work than do not -- unfortunately we all get painted with the same brush. And it's a shame."
Last summer, Hamilton was part of a similar state investigation, in which four town police officers, including former Police Chief Walter Cullen, were indicted on public corruption charges.
Attorney General Martha Coakley's Public Corruption Unit also investigated former Ipswich and Middleton Fire Chief Henry Michalski Jr. for falsifying records. Michalski was charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice for making false statements about training classes and the attendance rosters.
A spokesperson for Coakley's office said it could neither confirm nor deny whether the attorney general was also working with the DPH on its probe.
Manley said punishment for individuals who are found to have knowingly lied about their recertification, could include suspension and revocation of their license.
But the investigation is far from over.
Besides "several ambulance companies," the investigation also includes at least 29 Haverhill firefighters who were removed from EMT duty last week for improper certification.
"We are currently trying to understand how widespread this problem is and we will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again," Manley said.