A Los Angeles County fireman who trained hundreds of firefighters in emergency medicine has been arrested on charges that he forged his paramedic certificate, Ventura County authorities announced Wednesday.
Allen Lee Smith, a 20-year veteran who coordinated the Los Angeles County Fire Department's emergency medical technician training program, was charged with two felony counts of forgery and two counts of theft under false pretenses in connection with instruction he conducted for the Ventura County Fire Department and Oxnard Community College.
Los Angeles authorities are conducting a separate investigation but have not yet decided whether to file charges, Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan Kelberg said.
Smith, who worked as a paramedic for the Los Angeles County Fire Department before becoming a firefighter, has served as principal instructor in emergency medicine for the department's 2,000 firefighters for the last several years, coordinating lesson plans, and scheduling and researching changes in the rapidly evolving field.
In Ventura County, he gave classroom training for the department's 344 firefighters, who have been ordered to undergo retraining this month to ensure that their emergency medical technician certificates are valid. The 47-year-old Camarillo resident also taught at Oxnard Community College until last year.
Emergency medical training does not allow firefighters to act as full paramedics, but qualifies them to provide treatment such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, blood pressure checks and other basic emergency care given until ambulances arrive.
According to Ventura County Health Care Agency officials, Smith, who has been widely acknowledged for his expertise in emergency medicine, has not been certified as a paramedic since 1978.
Barbara Brodfuehrer, emergency medical services administrator, said Smith presented her with a certificate from the state fire marshal's office that purported to be valid over a 10-year period. Because paramedic certificates are never issued for longer than two years, Brodfuehrer said, she turned the certificate over to the district attorney for investigation.
Ventura County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Weimer said Smith surrendered Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance. He is scheduled for arraignment on the four felony charges, which carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison, in Ventura Municipal Court on Feb. 24.
"It is alleged that Smith altered documents and then submitted them to the Ventura County Health Care Agency and Oxnard Community College. These altered documents allowed Smith to instruct EMT (emergency medical training) classes for Ventura County Fire Department and Oxnard Community College. Smith received approximately $25,000 for his instructions since 1981, which constitutes the theft under false pretenses allegation," Weimer said in a prepared statement.
Los Angeles County Fire Department officials have said there are no immediate plans to remove Smith from his firefighting duties pending outcome of the case, although he was removed as principal instructor when the investigation began.
Smith's attorney, Dennis Fredrickson, said there is "a serious question" about whether state law required Smith to have a valid paramedic's certificate to conduct the instruction. Smith had a valid teaching credential from the state Board of Education for his work at Oxnard Community College, he said.
"Mr. Smith is very highly qualified, and there's no question of the excellence of his instruction. There just hasn't been any question about his capabilities," Fredrickson said. "I just can't see that he had any basic intent, whatever he has done, to defraud the people. He has no past record, he's been a leader in this whole field and his abilities are unimpeachable."