Lawsuit Challenges California’s Limit on Two-Time Felons Becoming EMTs

A seasonal wildland firefighter from California has filed suit seeking to challenge the California Emergency Medical Services Authority’s rule that prohibits two-time felons from being certified as EMTs.

Dario Gurrola filed suit last week in US District Court for the Eastern District of California alleging a violation of the 14th Amendment. Gurrola, who first became a firefighter while an inmate, has two felony convictions on his record. As explained in the complaint:

  • In 2003, a police officer stopped a 22-year-old Dario and found the kitchen knife he carried in his jacket pocket for protection. He was convicted of possessing a concealed dagger, a felony.
  • About two years later, Dario was out one night after drinking and abusing drugs. A security guard tried to calm him down, and Dario assaulted the guard. Dario was convicted of assault, another felony.
  • In the following years, Dario was convicted of misdemeanors and two felonies that were later reduced to misdemeanors, the last in 2011. Those convictions have since been dismissed. The 2003 and 2005 felonies are the only ones on his record.
  • Eventually, as Dario’s twenties were ending, he realized he had to change.
  • He accepted full responsibility for his past convictions, which he believes resulted from his own bad choices. He cut ties with his neighborhood friends.
  • While in custody as a juvenile, Dario had served in a fire camp in Ventura, California, where he fought a major fire.
  • In the past decade, Dario earned exceptional firefighting and EMT credentials.
  • In 2013 and 2015, Dario successfully served as a seasonal firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service.
  • In 2017, he completed a 212-hour EMT basic training course.
  • That same year, he also worked as a certified medical transport driver.
  • In 2018, he completed firefighter training at San Pasqual Reservation Fire Academy.
  • Then he completed further courses in firefighting, fire behavior, risk assessment, and airway and defibrillation rescue. He has dozens of certifications.
  • In 2019, he successfully served as a seasonal firefighter at the Cal Pines Fire Department in Alturas.
  • And he sat for, and passed, a test with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
  • Finally, after preparing for nearly a decade, Dario applied to Northern California EMS for EMT certification.
  • He was denied.

Gurrola’s suit names David Duncan, the director of the California Emergency Medical Services Authority, and Jeffrey Kepple, the medical director of Northern California EMS, Inc. as defendants. The complaint alleges that California’s EMS system violates the equal protection, due process, and privileges and immunities clauses of the 14th Amendment because there is “no rational basis for a blanket, lifetime prohibition on people with two felony convictions—including old and irrelevant convictions—becoming certified EMTs.” Gurrola is seeking a court order enjoining Duncan and Kepple from enforcing the two-felony prohibition.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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