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City fire instructors cleared in EMS cheating probe

Baltimore Fire Department recruits were allowed to see confidential testing materials before an exam in June because the training staff didn't know better, according to newly public documents that detail the internal investigation into the city's Emergency Medical Services training program.

"I think that the motive wasn't nefarious. … There was a lot of inexperience," Fire Chief James S. Clack said after releasing the report. "They were trying to do things right; they just didn't know what was right."

The scandal originally implicated five training staff members, but all charges were dismissed in October. Redacted versions of the October disciplinary hearing records and the 36-page investigation report, completed in August, were released Tuesday.

"If anybody could be held accountable, it would be me," said Clack. When management of the Baltimore City Fire Academy changed hands in the fall of 2010, many experienced trainers left and inexperienced staff members were introduced, he said.

The personnel shift left people in charge who did not know the rules, he said.

According to the investigation report, "confidential" markings were removed from testing documents, which were made available to some students before a June 14 exam. The state agency that licenses individual EMS providers and accredits emergency services training programs, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, discovered the impropriety and brought it to the attention of the department.

"There was not enough demonstrable evidence of anyone intentionally circumventing the testing process," said Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association. While no one acted with the intent of cheating, he said, there was a culture among training instructors that called for a "concerted effort so that everyone passed."

The students involved were publicly cleared of wrongdoing almost four months ago, after Clack summarized the investigation's findings. All recruits graduating from the training program are qualified and passed their examinations honestly, he said.

The state Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems is still conducting an investigation into the June incident, Clack said, which could result in the revocation of individuals' licenses.

The alleged cheating led to revelations that the city's EMS training program had not remedied record-keeping problems the state agency identified more than a year before. As a result, the city was on the brink of losing its EMS training accreditation, so Clack voluntarily ended the program in August.

Since ending the city's EMS training program, the department has cut the number of academy instructors from 11 to six, said Clack, allowing five firefighters to be returned to the field. The remaining six instructors teach firefighting. The department has arranged with the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and Baltimore City Community College to provide EMS training, he said.

"The content and the model, I believe, is better," Clack said of the new EMS training arrangement. The city may apply for accreditation again, he said, but the current arrangement is working out.

Outsourcing EMS training has been tough for officers, who need to take part in continuing education, said Fugate.

"Baltimore City, in my opinion, shouldn't be the tail on the dog," said Fugate. "We should be providing the re-certification opportunities for our own members."

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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