Union to present details of EMS allegations Monday

·4 min read

Dec. 4—CUMBERLAND — A list of specific details that backup allegations against Department of Emergency Services EMS Chief Christopher Biggs is expected to be presented to Allegany County officials Monday.

After a "majority vote of no confidence," the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1715 in Cumberland, which represents paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, formally asked the Allegany County Government Department of Human Resources to remove Biggs from his position as Emergency Medical Services chief due to allegations including nepotism, repeated violation of Weingarten Rights, derogatory comments about employees to other employees and the public/patients, inability to implement policies fairly and effectively for all employees and questionable ethics and integrity.

On Thursday, Ken McKenzie, president of Local 1715, discussed the issue at the Allegany County Board of Commissioners public meeting.

At that time, county attorney Lee Beeman said investigations of the allegations concluded, Biggs will not be disciplined and "we consider it a closed matter."

On Friday, McKenzie said he agreed to give the county specific examples that outline the union's complaints about Biggs.

"My hope is by the (next commissioners meeting), they'll have an answer," McKenzie said of the county's response to whether Biggs will be removed from his position.

McKenzie said he won't discuss details until after that time.

He said he's concerned the county's EMS leadership is following a familiar path that led to a "black eye" for the division.

In January 2019, county officials said Dick DeVore, the Department of Emergency Services director, and Robert Pattison, the Emergency Services division chief, were no longer employed by the county, but didn't provide a reason.

Prior to that, DeVore was the subject of a Maryland State Police investigation that included allegations of prostitution, drug distribution and using his office and work vehicle to have sex with individuals while employed by Allegany County.

The state's attorney later declined to prosecute DeVore.

MSP also investigated Pattison for sexual harassment allegations.

No charges were filed against Pattison, but according to police reports, he was terminated from his job.

"You are all aware of the past," McKenzie said to county officials Thursday. "The county doesn't have the best track record when it comes to leadership of EMS. Unfortunately, we feel you are going down the same path."

Lee Beeman, the county's attorney, responded that the two individuals were terminated within 72 hours of learning about their conduct.

In 2020, Jason Bennett, the county's interim administrator at the time, said DeVore had "retired."

On Friday, McKenzie said ethics surrounding the EMS leadership are still being questioned.

"I think we're there again," he said.

Meanwhile, McKenzie said EMS workers are continuing to focus on their jobs.

"Obviously there are some nervous people," he said. "This is where they have to work."

McKenzie encouraged members of the public to contact county commissioners with questions about the situation.

"If people have concerns like we do ... show up at the next (commissioners) meeting," he said.

McKenzie also said the recent "vote of no confidence" is a first for Local 1715.

Also Friday, Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said the no confidence vote is somewhat rare.

"It's not something that we see frequently," he said.

Delbridge said his office hasn't been asked to get involved in the Local 1715 issue, generally doesn't engage or intervene in such conflicts and relies on county officials and EMS professionals to serve the public.

He said he believes Allegany County officials are committed to provide emergency medical services to the community.

Delbridge also said he is confident the county's clinicians will provide the services they are educated and trained to perform.

The union members who support the no confidence vote have what they feel are legitimate concerns, while the county believes it has remedied the problems, he said.

"I understand there to be a difference of opinion on both sides," Delbridge said.

Jonathan Dayton is vice president of the Allegany Garrett Counties Volunteer Fire Rescue Association. Its mission is to serve, promote, advocate and represent the interests of the volunteer fire, rescue and emergency medical services in Allegany and Garrett Counties.

"We weren't aware that that was going to happen," Dayton said of the no confidence vote regarding Biggs.

"We're not going to get involved," Dayton said.

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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