Fired medevac pilot to appeal decision

November 11, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

A Maryland medevac pilot and would-be whistle-blower who was fired last week plans to appeal his dismissal from the Maryland State Police, union officials said yesterday.

According to police, Peter Peterson was fired for refusing to cooperate with an internal safety probe stemming from his September warning to federal authorities that the police-operated medevac fleet was not safely operated. Peterson's e-mail to the U.S. Transportation Department's inspector-general came days before a helicopter crash killed four people in Prince George's County and led to a reform of the state emergency medical system's operations.

"We're going to defend our member," said Patrick Moran, Maryland director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "He'll be seeking reinstatement."

Separately yesterday, two Maryland lawmakers criticized the state emergency medical system's plan to conduct part of an assessment of helicopter-use protocols behind closed doors.

"This is a matter of significant public concern, funded by taxpayers, which concerns the health and well-being of Marylanders," wrote Democratic Dels. Shane E. Pendergrass of Howard County and Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County.

Dr. Robert R. Bass, director of Maryland's EMS network, said he was considering the request.

Peterson declined to comment yesterday, but he has provided the newspaper with a copy of his September complaint, as well as a U.S. Department of Labor finding from May denying the pilot's request for whistle-blower status relating to a separate issue.

Police officials have said Peterson was fired not for airing his safety concerns but for refusing to provide state investigators with maintenance records he told federal authorities would document safety dangers across the 12-helicopter fleet.

Court records show that Peterson, a nine-year veteran, has been punished before after airing safety concerns. In 2006, he e-mailed 30 civilian helicopter pilots a copy of an "Aircraft Safety Report" he wrote raising his concern about a cracked frame on a helicopter. Peterson was docked 24 hours of paid leave for "unauthorized dissemination" of the report. The penalty was upheld by an administrative law judge.

In his complaint to the Transportation Department, Peterson alluded to "strong evidence of deeply troubling latent failures within the management" of the aviation unit and requested a meeting with the inspector general and whistle-blower status.

The inspector general's office has declined to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday that it will hold a public hearing in February to examine the sharp increase in medevac helicopter crashes nationwide, including the fatal crash Sept. 28 in Prince George's County.

The Washington hearing begins Feb. 3 and will include testimony from pilots, medical personnel and the Federal Aviation Administration. In the past year, the NTSB has investigated nine fatal medevac helicopter crashes that killed 35 people.

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