San Jose this summer hired a firefighter recruit about three years after he lost his paramedic license for trying to initiate an inappropriate relationship with a patient, raising serious questions about the city’s hiring process for public safety workers.
Brian Turner, 32, was hired by San Jose on June 26 as a firefighter recruit — a paid position within the San Jose Fire Department. To land that job, he went through a multi-step application process including a personal history questionnaire, an oral board interview, an interview with the fire chief, a background investigation, psychological examination and a lie detector test.
Turner said he felt it was a long shot he’d be hired by the San Jose Fire Department because of his prior misconduct. But that didn’t stop San Jose from hiring him. Turner claims he even told San Jose fire officials about his past.
The trouble for Turner began when he worked as a paramedic with Rural/Metro Ambulance in Santa Clara in April 2018. He responded to a call for service around 6:30 a.m. on April 6.
A woman was vomiting after heavy drinking the night before and hadn’t eaten, according to documents from California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority, which oversees paramedic licensing.
Turner and his partner took the woman to a hospital after providing medical attention. Turner later claimed during an administrative hearing the patient handed him “a piece of scrap paper on which she had written her telephone number.” A state administrative law judge said the evidence did not support Turner’s story that the patient gave him her number other than on the required pre-hospital care report.
The documents say Turner texted the patient shortly after leaving the hospital and tried to initiate a romantic relationship with her.
He offered to meet her after work, give her a massage and bring her food. The woman responded that “I need sleep now,” and he replied “We could sleep together :).” The patient texted him back, “I don’t like you sorry” and “I don’t even remember who you are,” and later texted him, “Stop text(ing) me,” the report said. On April 8, 2018, he texted her “good morning,” and she responded, “Why are you calling me?”
Turner texted her multiple times following that exchange. He offered to take her to dinner. She did not respond. She later went to Santa Clara police about the text messages and filed a complaint with the ambulance company.
Paramedics are prohibited from using medical information, including a patient’s phone number, for any reason other than providing them health care services. An administrative law judge decided to revoke Turner’s paramedic license in 2019.
The judge, Juliet Cox, wrote that despite having good character references from his employers, Turner’s conduct with the patient was “egregious.”
Turner said he is embarrassed about his decision to text the woman.
“On a whim, I made a bad decision to do that, it’s totally unprofessional and it crossed a professional boundary there,” he told San José Spotlight. “I was just being reckless and made that decision to reach out to her.”
Questionable hiring practices
Despite the misconduct, Turner passed multiple steps—including an interview with San Jose’s fire chief—and got the job in June. His employment ended on Aug. 25, just three days after San José Spotlight asked about him.
San Jose spokesperson Carolina Camarena said the city was unable to provide specific information about Turner’s employment, because the city does not comment on information about personnel.
“Information regarding each candidate is evaluated individually and determinations to advance any candidate in the recruitment process are made based on the unique facts of each situation,” Camarena said in an email.
She also noted the department is not planning to change its hiring processes. “The Fire Department’s hiring practices and background checks have served the Fire Department well and we are not contemplating changes at this time,” she said.
Turner told San José Spotlight he explained to department officials why he’d lost his paramedic’s license but got the job anyway.
“I was honest about it and everything was disclosed about it,” Turner said.
Turner in June had already regained his EMT license — a lower technical level than paramedic — from a local county authority, making him qualified to be a firefighter recruit in San Jose. But the state, which handles licensure for paramedics, in July denied his application to reinstate his paramedic’s license. The two positions do a similar job responding to the public for medical calls.
About halfway through the city’s 18-week firefighter academy, Turner said he was fired without cause and wasn’t told why. He claims his union representative told him the decision was related to his history.
Turner said his actions were out of character and he hoped San Jose would continue to look past it.
“The chief is big on giving people second chances, and he really wanted to give (me) a second chance,” he said, recounting what his union representative told him. “But apparently this was over his head.”