Expired Paramedic Certification Under Investigation By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 03, 2006

Some members of the Berkeley Fire Department may be operating with expired paramedic certification. 

Berkeley Fire Department Chief Debra Pryor said Tuesday that the department is conducting a probe into the possible expiration of “some companion certificates” that are required of paramedics to perform emergency medicine in Alameda County.  

In addition to standard state licensing and county accreditation requirements, Alameda County paramedics must maintain certification in advanced cardiac life support, advanced pediatric life support and prehospital trauma. The former two are renewable after two years; the latter after four years. 

Those with expired certificates cannot work in the county as paramedics until they come into compliance, according to the Alameda County Emergency Services Agency. 

Pryor refused to comment on how many employees are involved or if they have been suspended from duty. 

“It’s a confidential personnel matter to be handled on a case-by-case basis,” she said. 

Assistant Fire Chief Rod Foster, who oversees the department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) division, would not comment on whether employees have worked in ambulances with expired certificates, but said, “When someone is found not to have certification, they will not be found to be working in an ambulance.” 

Recertification involves an eight- to 16-hour course. Classes are available in multiple locations throughout the county. 

The Berkeley Fire Department receives 12,000 calls a year of which 60 percent are for emergency medical care. There are 40 paramedics, including firefighters, apparatus operators and officers, in the department, Foster said. 

Both Pryor and Foster say employees—not the department’s administration—are responsible for keeping records up-to-date. 

Until last week, the EMS division did not have a system in place for keeping tabs on certification and licensing. But as a result of the investigation, Foster said the division set up a database that will help employees stay abreast of certification deadlines.  

“It’s my policy that we’ll monitor (certification) months in advance and we will send out notifications” when renewal deadlines approach, he said. “I think it would be in the best interest of the department to monitor certifications.” 

In his 20 years at the Berkeley Fire Department, Foster said he has never encountered a similar incident. But he pointed out that the additional Alameda County requirements have only been in existence for about five years.  

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing this,” he said. “It’s something that’s being dealt with and we don’t expect it to be a recurring issue.”