State Certifies Northwest Iowa EMT Despite 23 Convictions

October 23, 2013

A northwest Iowa emergency medical technician has been convicted 23 times of state and federal crimes, but the Iowa Department of Public Health said he’s little risk to the public.

The Des Moines Register reported Monday that the department’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services has certified Patrick Birgess as an emergency medical technician despite his extensive arrest record. Birgess volunteers as a firefighter in Hawarden.

Between 1988 and 2004 he was convicted of crimes including drug possession, forgery, receiving stolen property, disorderly conduct, identity theft and unlawful entry of a motor vehicle.

Public Health Department spokesman Ken Sharp said the agency believes “Birgess can practice with minimal risk to the public.” He noted Birgess has no criminal convictions in nine years.

Sharp also said that bureau placed Birgess’ certification on probation for two years, so it can suspend or revoke his certification if it becomes aware of any problems.

A telephone number for Birgess couldn’t be located.

Fire Chief Jon Strong said he initially was uncomfortable with the prospect of Birgess becoming an EMT because of his criminal history, but he ultimately sent a letter to the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services in support of his certification.

“To be right honest with you, I don’t have any problems with Patrick Birgess,” Strong said. “He has been a very big asset to our department.”

The Hawarden case comes amid criticism of the state’s oversight of its emergency medical services system.

Last month, the Register reported that Craig Johnson, of Dayton, was allowed to work as an EMT despite convictions for attempted murder and theft.

The Register has reported that Iowa doesn’t require background checks of emergency medical workers. The Register has found the state goes on to disciplines more EMTs than neighboring states and has sanctioned dozens of EMTs for past convictions.

The Legislature approved a measure supported by the Iowa EMS Association that would have created a task force to examine problems in the emergency medical services system, but Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed the bill, saying the task force would have grown the size of government.

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