All of Baltimore City's Emergency Medical Service instructors have been put on administrative leave until an investigation is complete into allegations of cheating at the city's fire academy, Fire Chief James S. Clack said Wednesday.
The Fire Department's training division consists of about 25 people, Clack said, and about half that number are EMS instructors.
"The half that does EMS training was put on administrative leave on Monday pending the outcome of this investigation," Clack said. "Because we don't know who was involved on the instruction staff, we're just playing it safe and putting everybody on administrative leave, and over the next couple of weeks we're going to interview them and try to get to the bottom of what happened."
If the department is able to solidly identify those behind the cheating, he said, the city will move forward with revamping the program. If the investigation is inconclusive, training alternatives are going to be explored, Clack said.
"I told MIEMSS [Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems], the state agency, that we wouldn't do any training until we got to the bottom of what happened," Clack said of the agency that oversees EMS training statewide.
The state agency that oversees paramedics and emergency medical technicians notified the Fire Department last week that it had determined that students cheated on the practical segment of a test administered June 14.
The city Fire Department heard from MIEMMS in June, Clack said, that "there was a practical exam left out in the open." The state agency, he said, was concerned because these exams are supposed to be confidential. "That's really what we're investigating this week ourselves. We're doing interviews this week and next week."
Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, said he began hearing concerns about cheating in the EMS training program several months ago, in April and May. Several members of his union, he said, decided not to take part in the training process this spring because of what he said was an attitude in the program that everyone passed "by hook or by crook."
Clack said that there was only one instance of cheating that he could remember being reported in April or May, and that was in a refresher course, not the entry-level EMS class.
"We did have, and we're still investigating this as well, an EMT refresher course for a certified EMT where an exam, like a quiz … had the answers marked in the answer booklet," Clack said. "What we found there is that the instructor just didn't check the booklets from class to class." The student who took the test with the answers circled in the test booklet reported the problem in a special report, Clack said.
Jim Brown, a spokesman for MIEMSS, said that cheating on EMS testing has not been a problem in other jurisdictions in the recent past.
"Sometimes there are individuals called out by their jurisdictions," Brown said, "but nothing at this level."
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.