By Juan Montoya
Fifteen firefighters wasted three months and the city is out $67,500 after the State of Texas shut down a basic paramedic course run by Pan American Institute Emergency Medical Sciences finding it did not meet the requirements for the training and had fraudulently applied under the guise of a UT Brownsville-taught course.
The firm founded by UTB instructor Adiel Garcia in early April was awarded the contract to teach 15 Brownsville firefighters a basic Paramedic Training Program and was approved by the city commission during their April 16 meeting based on the recommendation by Fire Department Chief Lenny Perez and a five-person evaluation committee. At the time, the commissioners were not told that Pan American Institute had not yet been approved as a training provider by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Neither Perez nor Garcia told the commissioners that the firm had submitted its proposal to teach the course to the state using a UTB course number already approved by the state.
The university was apparently unaware that the instructors – including Garcia – did not notify the university that they were going to apply to teach the course off campus using university course materials and UTB logo apparel.
"For all practical purposes, the students thought that they were being taught by UTB instructors and that the course counted the same as the one taught at UTB," said a firefighter with knowledge of the matter. "But the university knew nothing about it and did not know that its course number had been used by Pan American to land the city contract."
The motion to approve the contract with the new firm formed by Garcia was made by commissioner Rose Gowen and seconded by commissioner Rick
Longoria. They did so largely based on a letter that Perez attached to the agenda packet where he assure them thatr "PAIEMS...meets all the requirements for conducting this course."
On Friday, the TSDHS officially ordered a "pause" on the instruction of the course by PAIEMS pending an investigation into its application to teach the course and the allegedly fraudulent use of the UTB course number to gain approval from the state.
The classes have been conducted by Garcia, listed on the UTB website as an Assistant Master Technical Instructor Allied Health, and several assistants at Fire Station 8 (Port of Brownsville since April when the contract was approved by the city.
However, some city hall observers say that Perez, as fire chief, Sam Oretega, Assistant Fire Chief/EMS Directotr, and Javier Quiroga, Lt. EMS Training Officer should have known better. All three were on the evaluation committee and along with the city's Oscar Salinas, Human Resource Director and Cruz Lopez, Assistant Fire Chief/Training officer, recommended that PAIEMS be awarded the contract.
In their report, they noted that of the 50 companies on the Texas Bid System that received an invitation to participate, five accessed and downloaded the Request For Proposals package issued March 3 and only one (PAIEMS) submitted a proposal.by March 20. The pre-proposal meeting was held March 20 and its proposal was the only one reviewed.
"Lenny, Ortega and Quiroga should have known better," said the city source. "PAIEMS was going to teach a course that normally requires between 1,000 to 1,200 hours in only about 576 hours according to their proposal to the city. The company was not certified to teach that course. A the end of the course the students had to pass a national test. It's highly doubtful that they would be ready to take it."
Ever since Perez has been fire chief he has garnered a reputation for hogging the spotlight and making decisions that ultimately are overturned on appeal by his targets. He, for example, took credit for the heroic deeds of firefighters and EMS paramedics at the Queen Isabella Causeway disaster by accepting the congressional proclamations and making sure that the real heroes of the day were kept away from City Hall when they were issued.
Just recently, Cameron County held a ceremony honoring first responders who had fallen in the line of duty. As usual, Perez did not inform local firefighters and paramedics of the event but showed up to receive the honors on their behalf decked out in his finest service uniform.
Will this proven perpetrator of stolen valor now take the center stage and own up to the fact that once again he has failed miserably in doing his due diligence in protecting the city and its citizens? And will Gowen, Longoria and the rest of the city commission take appropriate measures to control the damage caused by his latest foible?