A West Pierce firefighter is accused of stealing various prescription drugs from ambulances and replacing them with saline to support his addiction.
The 42-year-old paramedic was arrested Thursday and booked into Pierce County Jail on suspicion of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors are reviewing charges and are expected to make a decision by Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear how long the paramedic is believed to have been stealing drugs. Investigators said he appeared to be keeping the drugs for personal use rather than selling them.
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“There’s a lot of mixed emotions right now in our department,” Chief Jim Sharp said. “You don’t expect this from one of your co-workers. We’re in a position where we hire trustworthy people and you entrust them with a lot of things. We’re frustrated and saddened.”
Fellow paramedics first noticed in March that the protective caps on fentanyl were loose or completely off and reported it to the medical service officer, who manages and distributes drugs within the department.
They initially believed it might be a drug manufacturing defect until they found a fentanyl vial that was low.
West Pierce then removed all in-stock vials of fentanyl and sent them to the drug manufacturing company, along with two unopened packages, to be inspected. The vials in the ambulances were replaced with a syringe-type delivery method.
In April, the manufacturer confirmed that someone had indeed tampered with the controlled drugs.
West Pierce reported the tampering in late April to Lakewood police, who handed the investigation to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
A week after the investigation launched, paramedics noticed something was amiss with containers of fentanyl and morphine.
The arrested paramedic worked primarily out of Station 21 at 5000 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood. He has worked for West Pierce Fire for nine years.
Detectives looked at who had access to the drugs and identified the paramedic as the suspect.
Sharp said he is working with legal advisors to figure out what comes next with regards to the paramedic’s job.
“The community has placed their trust in our firefighters and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to maintain that trust,” Sharp said.
Investigators are pouring over records and completing an audit to figure out how many vials were stolen and how many patients may have been impacted by the thefts.
“The probability is that some patients got saline rather than the drugs they were supposed to get,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
Receiving saline — a salt water solution — would not have hurt patients, but they would have unknowingly not received the drugs they needed.
The paramedic received a valor award in 2015 after saving a man whose van caught fire. He was also awarded a merit badge in 2014 for assisting a small bus carrying soldiers returning from Afghanistan after it crashed on Interstate 5.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653