EMS workers fired over alleged racist hazing

July 11, 2008 10:25:16 PM PDT
Three EMS workers have been fired by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey over an alleged racist hazing incident. The university's president said Friday that the three were terminated after cell phone camera images surfaced of paramedic trainees at University Hospital in Newark garbed in white sheets resembling Ku Klux Klan robes.

"UMDNJ has never and will never tolerate attitudes and behaviors that discriminate against any individual or group," university President William F. Owen Jr. said in a written statement. "The actions taken by the individuals in this instance are appalling."

UMDNJ spokeswoman Terri Guess said all three of the fired paramedics were employees of UMDNJ, which operates University Hospital. Guess said students from Northeastern University in Boston were the trainees involved in the incident, which took place on July 6.

The university identified the fired paramedics as Timothy Prahm, Henry Solares and Thomas Hart. None could immediately be reached for comment Friday. A telephone message left at a listing believed to be Prahm's was not immediately returned. Messages left at three numbers listed under the name Solares were not returned. It was unclear which of dozens of New Jersey listings for Hart was the correct number.

John J. Gerow, president of Teamsters Local 97, which represents paramedics at University Hospital, told the Star-Ledger of Newark, which first reported the firings, that he was still learning details of the incident and could not immediately respond. Gerow did not immediately return an after-hours message left by The Associated Press on Friday.

A spokeswoman for Northeastern University said two of their students who had been placed at UMDNJ to become certified paramedics had been victims of what she characterized as a hazing incident. Their names were not released.

Northeastern University issued a statement saying it had suspended all student placements with UMDNJ pending further review.

"Northeastern University was distressed to learn that two of our EMT certificate students were coerced into such an appalling and offensive incident," Philomena Mantella, senior vice president for student affairs said in a statement. "We condemn the offenders' atrocious conduct and support President Owen's swift and decisive response and his institution's zero-tolerance philosophy."

A photo image on the Star-Ledger Web site shows a paramedic in a University Hospital uniform apparently adjusting the garment of one of two people wearing white sheets over their heads; one is holding a wooden cross.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker called the workers' conduct "completely unacceptable." The city contracts with UMDNJ for emergency medical services.

"The City of Newark will not tolerate such behavior by medical professionals, and we are glad that UMDNJ has moved to terminate these individuals," Booker said in a statement.

UMDNJ's Owen said in his statement that the investigation into what happened was ongoing.

"As the details over this incident are clarified, I know you will agree that these actions have no place in our society and do not reflect the values of our University community," Owen said. "The institution has an aggressive zero-tolerance philosophy for wrongdoing and is committed to fostering an environment that protects and supports all of its workforce."


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