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Magistrate recommends state vacate suspension of Lexington firefighters’ licenses

A state administrative law magistrate has recommended the Massachusetts Department of Public Health vacate license suspensions for four Lexington firefighters named in a scandal last year involving more than 200 emergency medical technicians statewide.

The recommended decision issued by the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals on Dec. 6 comes more than a year after the firefighters filed a suit in federal court against the state Department of Public Health and its office of emergency medical services in an effort to clear their names.

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“They were blamed for something that they had no control of and no part of, so to that extent, I think their names have been cleared,’’ said Raymond Saleg, an attorney for one of the firefighters, John Ritchie, following the magistrate’s decision.

The Public Health Department has 30 days to review the recommendation, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Manley said yesterday. Manley said the decision would have to be reviewed before the department could answer questions about whether it could affect any other EMT license suspensions tied to the 2010 scandal.

Ritchie and fellow firefighters Joseph Foley, George-Arthur Robinson, and Mark Schofield were among more than 200 EMTs whose licenses were temporarily suspended in 2010 because the Public Health Department said they had false medical training credentials.

The state said the Lexington firefighters had submitted cardiopulmonary resuscitation cards for recertification even though they had not taken the training.

But the four firefighters said that Lexington’s former recertification coordinator - Mark Culleton, a 24-year veteran of the department - had submitted their names for recertification without their knowledge from a roster of firefighters who had taken the training.

The firefighters ‘were blamed for something that they had no control of and no part of.’

Raymond Saleg, attorney for Firefighter John Ritchie
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Culleton, who has since resigned from the Lexington Fire Department after the town began disciplinary proceedings against him, was also president of a state-accredited EMT training company, Life Saving Maneuvers in Billerica. State officials have said Culleton falsified training records for more than 30 EMTs and paramedics, including several Lexington firefighters and workers from other ambulance companies.

In June 2010, the state Office of Emergency Medical Services sent a notice to the four Lexington firefighters saying they would be suspended for 90 days effective July 1, for having false recertification cards. The notices said each of the firefighters had admitted wrongdoing to investigators, according to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals decision. The suspension was later reduced to 45 days.

But in his recommended decision this month, First Administrative Magistrate James P. Rooney said no investigator from the Office of Emergency Services ever interviewed any of the four firefighters about the allegations and not one of them ever admitted wrongdoing to a state investigator or to the Lexington Fire Department.

Each of the four firefighters had valid CPR cards that had not yet expired when they received the new CPR recertification cards, and Rooney’s decision said the firefighters believed “in good faith’’ the new cards would become valid once they took the proper training. He said the firefighters had no intention of using the new cards until they had taken that training.

Harold Lichten, an attorney representing Firefighters Foley, Robinson, and Schofield, said the decision underscores that if his clients had been given due process to begin with, they never would have had their licenses suspended. He said the hearing they were given before the appeals division occurred only after they filed the federal suit in October 2010.

Lichten said the firefighters filed the US suit in part because they had never been given a hearing to contest the allegations against them and, as a result, their names were besmirched by being lumped in with other EMTs caught in the scandal. A fifth Lexington firefighter who filed the federal suit, Kenneth Tremblay, was also originally accused of having a falsified recertification, but the state later sent him a letter saying the allegations against him were unwarranted.

Lichten said that the federal suit will now go forward and that the firefighters are entitled to damages for loss of reputation.

Manley declined to comment on ongoing federal litigation.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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