Fire station plagued by pattern of missing drugs
A paramedic admits stealing vials of a powerful painkiller, but police don't know who stole the morphine.
By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published July 1, 2005
CLEARWATER - Days after a Clearwater Fire Department paramedic stole powerful narcotics from an emergency vehicle, more drugs disappeared from the city fire station where he worked, according to police investigation reports released Thursday.
The new allegations raise further questions about the department's ability to keep its drugs secure. It has also led fire Chief Jamie Geer to question supervisors, who did not detect the problems sooner.
"There are a lot of creative ways someone can try to manipulate the system, but I still believe at some point, because of the policies we have in place, there should have been a signal," Geer said Thursday. "Signals were present that something wasn't quite right. Those signals went unnoticed, or ignored."
A firefighter stationed near Clearwater Mall reported that a dose of morphine had been tampered with on April 6, police reports say, but Deputy Fire Chief James Fogarty disposed of the drug without an investigation.
Days later, a second dose of morphine was taken from a plastic container in an unlocked fire lieutenant's truck at the same station, the report said.
And powerful drugs, including a paralyzing agent only a handful of SWAT-trained medics had the training to administer, were found in an otherwise empty transport truck at the station June 16 along with a bloody needle. The drugs were not listed as part of the department's inventory.
The most recent lapses emerged after a 18-year Clearwater paramedic was arrested and accused of stealing and later injecting two multidose vials of the painkiller fentanyl, a drug 100 times stronger than heroin.
Police have not made an arrest on the more recent charges, and investigators believe the paramedic who admitted taking the fentanyl, Darren Keith, did not take the morphine.
Geer said he may have no way of ever knowing who did.
The chief is awaiting the results of a Pinellas County medical director's audit of drug handling procedures. He said he has already added layers of security to keep drugs better guarded: storing the drugs inside a locked box accessible only by a few.
Fire officials have also conducted unannounced inspections of some of the city's eight fire stations. Narcotics logs are being more thoroughly scrutinized by supervisors at every level, he said.
"I am disturbed," Geer said. "And that's probably putting it mildly."
Firefighters interviewed by police said narcotics had been reported missing as long as 10 years ago.
Keith, who resigned May 9, told investigators he had a drug problem and has injected cocaine into his arm and under his tongue. He said he injected the stolen fentanyl at home after an overtime shift.
His partner, Chad Korince, later reported to Fogarty that a one-dose morphine syringe had been tampered with.
Fogarty, the city's emergency medical services chief, told investigators he did not believe the incident was suspicious. He took the tampered syringe to the Pinellas County medical director's office, where it was disposed of.
Geer said he spoke with Fogarty, a longtime department administrator, about the incident.
"I was not pleased with some of the answers he gave me," Geer said. "I wasn't getting the information I needed."
Geer wouldn't elaborate.
The chief, on the job for 10 months, said he intends to conduct his own interviews after the county audit is completed. He said he expects to make changes but hasn't determined how sweeping they will be.
Already, personnel have been transferred from the Clearwater station, No. 49, where the drug problems have been prevalent. Geer said those moves were made to relieve stress for the department, not as a punishment.
[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:24:21]
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