Fire-Rescue drugs go missing from storage room

Monroe County Fire-Rescue Department officials deny the existence of an ongoing police investigation into drugs that went missing last month from the Florida Keys Marathon Airport hangar that houses the county’s helicopter air ambulance.

But the Sheriff’s Office Wednesday confirmed its detectives are involved in an ongoing investigation into what happened to “narcotics” reported missing by a battalion chief from a refrigerator in the hangar’s medical storage room on Oct. 13.

Deputy Chief of Operations Gary Boswell said in an Oct. 24 e-mail that there is no investigation or missing drugs.

“Yes, I can confirm this is not correct,” Boswell wrote after being asked if law enforcement agents recently visited county fire stations looking into missing medications.

Boswell did not elaborate and did not return several calls this week to his office phone and cell phone seeking answers about the drugs.

And Dr. Sandra Schwemmer, Monroe County’s medical director, replied when asked about the missing drugs, “If drugs are missing, they get restocked.”

She followed that statement by saying she did not “understand the nature of the question.” She hung up on a reporter when again asked specifically if drugs were reported missing from the TraumaStar helicopter hangar.

Three subsequent calls to Schwemmer went directly into her voice mail. As of press time Thursday afternoon, she has not returned those calls.

The medical director is responsible for the control and use of all drugs administered by all fire departments within the county.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation said the drugs are likely morphine.

County Fire Chief James Callahan and County Administrator Roman Gastesi also did not return messages with questions about the missing narcotics.

The Sheriff’s Office released a heavily redacted offense report, so it is not clear the amount of drugs that went missing. Ten items are listed on the report, but what they are and why they are listed was redacted by the Sheriff’s Office before the document was released Wednesday.

The report states county Emergency Medical Services Capt. Andrea Sutherland received a telephone call Oct. 13 from a flight medic “advising that there was a discrepancy in the narcotic log and that narcotics were missing.”

Deputy Christian Kellenberger said in the report that Battalion Chief Dale Beaver also told him “that narcotics were missing from the Medical Room.”

The room in the hangar where drugs are stored is secured with an electronic keypad, according to the offense report. TraumaStar is flown by Sheriff’s Office pilots, but only flight nurses and flight medics from Fire-Rescue have access to the room.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin stressed that no members from the police agency have access to the room or were inside it the day the drugs went missing.

“None of our people have access to this room,” Herrin said. She also said jail trustees on work release at the hangar do not have access to the room.

“We don’t have anything to do with the room,” she said.

There is no security camera monitoring the medical supply room, Herrin said.

This is not the first time medical supplies went missing from the TraumaStar hangar.

In August 2010, Sutherland took unspecified supplies from the hangar. Her colleague, Battalion Chief Mark Thompson, returned some or all of the supplies the next day, according to documents obtained by The Reporter.

It is unclear if any of the supplies were used. Sutherland was off duty when the supplies were taken from the hangar. Boswell said in June 2012 that Sutherland took the supplies after becoming “aware of a medical need of a local volunteer firefighter.”

Practicing medicine while off duty and not under the supervision of a county medical director is against state law. But Boswell defended Sutherland and said she didn’t violate policy. Sutherland has since been promoted to captain.

The incident resulted in the firing of Lt. John Hamburger, who insisted in 2011 that Fire Department brass investigate the matter. When they wouldn’t, Hamburger alleged a cover-up. He was fired shortly after for “insubordination.” Nevertheless, his colleagues elected him union chief in June 2012 while he appealed his termination.

Earlier this year, a magistrate ruled the Fire Department must reinstate Hamburger.