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This article was produced in partnership with The Public’s Radio, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. It was co-published with the Boston Globe.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

When Rhode Island lawmakers ousted two state Health Department officials from the board that oversees its emergency medical services system, Gov. Gina Raimondo replaced them with a city mayor and this man: Albert F. Peterson III.

“His decades of experience as a first responder coupled with his recent experience operating a company that trains EMTs made him well qualified to serve on this board,’’ the governor’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Bogdan, said of Peterson in an email.

But left unsaid is that Peterson, a retired North Providence fire captain, also has a criminal history and has been disciplined by state health regulators. His company, meanwhile, has made misleading statements on its website about its professional accreditation and drew a warning this week from a national group following questions from The Public’s Radio.  

Peterson’s appointment and the broader board restructuring comes amid a feud over state protocols around emergency medical services. The state firefighters’ union and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns pushed back against efforts by state health officials and some doctors to restrict which first responders could insert breathing tubes in cardiac arrest patients. The Public’s Radio and ProPublica reported this month that 12 patients died after their breathing tubes were misplaced. 

The firefighters and municipal leaders successfully pushed for legislation signed in July by Raimondo that ousted health department officials from the state Ambulance Service Coordinating Advisory Board.

Peterson is one of two new members Gov. Ramindo appointed to the board. The other is Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena, who was highly critical of efforts to restrict the use of intubations.

It isn’t clear how Peterson was chosen for the advisory committee. Raimondo’s office received no letters recommending him, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email.  Peterson simply called the office to express his interest in the board seat and he was selected over a pediatric emergency medicine doctor who also asked to be appointed.  

Peterson, a retired North Providence fire captain, is a licensed EMT-Cardiac. Prior to forming his own company in 2006, the state Health Department placed Peterson’s  EMT-Cardiac license on probation for a year following charges that he obstructed a police officer and filed a false report claiming his Lexus sedan had been stolen, The Providence Journal reported. State police later found the heavily damaged car on Route 146; Peterson had been seen leaving the area on foot where the car was found. 

It was not the first time that Peterson had run into trouble with the law. Three years earlier, Peterson had pleaded no-contest to simple assault after he allegedly cut-off another man’s car, exchanged angry words with the other driver, and then broadcast a call for help over his police-band radio, The Providence Journal reported. When police responded to his broadcast, they found both cars stopped at an intersection and the two men “wrestling” in the street. 

In 2010, Peterson was charged with second-degree child abuse against his then 15-year-old son, The Providence Journal and ABC-6 News  reported. The Journal reported that Peterson brought his son, a former honor student, to his station office after picking him up at a party one night and told him he was “pretty disappointed” in him for failing his algebra class. The boy told investigators that his father punched him in the stomach and face and kicked him in the buttocks, the newspaper reported. 

Neither the state court system nor the state attorney general’s office could find any record of the child-abuse charge. Peterson said the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, and later expunged

Rhode Island law allows people convicted of a misdemeanor to file a motion for the expungement of records five years after completing their sentence. 

“I'm not proud of these things at all,’’ Peterson said during an interview, “but they happen for a lot of different reasons.” Among the reasons in his case, he said, were “anger management issues,’’ alcohol abuse and PTSD which, as firefighters, he said, “we all have...unfortunately.”

Peterson said he got help through an employees assistance program that provides counseling and treatment for firefighters. Since then, Peterson said, he has “made it a mission...to do the right things,” including becoming “more of a helpful, caring, loving father.”

Peterson was selected for the ambulance advisory board over Dr. Tanya Sutcliffe, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and assistant professor at Brown University’s medical school, who wrote to Raimondo in April requesting appointment to the advisory board. 

When Sutcliffe learned in September that Peterson was appointed to the board, she expressed her concern to Joseph Massino, the governor’s manager of boards and commissions: “I respect not being chosen,’’ she wrote in an email, “but if an ambulance advisory board member who votes on changes that may effect the best interest of pediatric patients in RI has been charged with harming a child in the past, I cannot and will not remain silent as a pediatric physician, a mother, and a Rhode Island resident.”

Sutcliffe did not respond to a request for comment.

American Safety Programs and Training, Inc. was accredited by the state Health Department in 2009; prior to that, the company had to seek the department’s approval for each course it offered, a department spokesman said. Peterson’s company is currently one of 15 EMS training programs in Rhode Island accredited by the department. 

Peterson’s company has also received significant financial support from the state.  To date, the company has received a total of $953,049 from state job training and workforce development programs, of which about 20% came from federal sources, Angelica Pelligrino, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, said in an email.

And Peterson’s company won a $19,980 bid in 2017 from the City of Providence to sublease a training space from Peterson for physical ability testing for Fire Department recruits. In 2018, the city awarded Peterson’s company a $64,400 “piggy back” lease  to use the same space for the Providence Police Academy.

When that lease agreement ended last June, the city issued a new request for proposals for a three-year lease for the police and fire academies -- and Peterson was once again the lowest qualified bidder. But the City Council’s finance committee did not award him the contract. 

Providence City Councilman John J. Igliozzi, who chairs the city’s finance committee, raised questions about possible improprieties under the previous lease arrangement and he asked the city solicitor’s office for a legal opinion. The city’s deputy solicitor, Adrienne G. Southgate, said in an interview that the previous lease was “explicitly permitted” under sections of the city code and state purchasing regulations.

In the meantime, Peterson withdrew his bid, saying the city owed him money. “Peterson made claims he wasn’t made whole’’ for some expenses, Steven M. Pare, Providence’s public safety commissioner, said. But when asked by The Public’s Radio this week about the money he said he was owed, Peterson replied, “I’m good. It’s all settled.” 

More recently, Peterson has also taken steps to settle questions raised about the representations made by his company, American Safety Programs and Training, Inc., on its website. The website had featured the name and an old logo of the National Registry of EMTs, a nonprofit that certifies EMTs and paramedics who pass its tests. Peterson is not, nor has he ever been, nationally certified, said the National Registry’s chief operating officer, Donnie Woodyard, Jr. 

“Not only are they using our patches without permission, they’re actually using patches for a level that was taken out of training about a decade ago,’’  Woodyard said in an interview last week, adding that he planned to send Peterson’s company a “cease and desist” letter. As of Tuesday, the images had been removed.

Peterson’s company also operates without the national accreditation needed for its graduates to qualify to take the paramedic licensing exam, despite claims on its website that its courses were “certified” by the Committee on Accreditation for the EMS Professions, or CoAEMSP.  (CoAEMSP does not “certify” paramedics programs, Gordon A. Kokx, the organization’s associate director, said in an email.) When asked about the claim on Tuesday, Peterson sounded surprised.  “Does it?” he said. “Because if that's the case, if we're misleading people, I want to know and I'll have it changed.” 

That wording also has been removed.

Lynn Arditi is a health reporter for The Public’s Radio in Providence, Rhode Island. Email her at larditi@thepublicsradio.org and follow her on Twitter at @LynnArditi.

Do you work in emergency medical response in Rhode Island? Help us investigate. We want to know what concerns Rhode Island’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, emergency physicians, 911 telecommunicators and dispatchers have about the state’s emergency system and how it could better serve Rhode Islanders. Here’s how to contact us confidentially:

  • Leave a voicemail at 401-213-9187
  • Email us at RhodeIsland911@propublica.org

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Al Peterson at his company,  American Safety Programs and Training, in Providence, R.I.
Al Peterson at his company, American Safety Programs and Training, in Providence, R.I.
Lynn Arditi/The Public's Radio
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Mayor Joseph Polisena (far left), and Albert Peterson (second from right)  appointed to the Ambulance Service Coordinating Advisory Board by Governor Raimondo..
Mayor Joseph Polisena (far left), and Albert Peterson (second from right) appointed to the Ambulance Service Coordinating Advisory Board by Governor Raimondo..
Lynn Arditi/The Public's Radio
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Al Peterson at his first meeting as a member of the Ambulance Service Coordinating
Al Peterson at his first meeting as a member of the Ambulance Service Coordinating
Lynn Arditi/The Public's Radio