Riding Shotgun with Joe Chidley, CEO of McCormick Ambulance

Joe Chidley, CEO of McCormick Ambulance

Joe Chidley, CEO of McCormick Ambulance

Last November the Council awarded McCormick Ambulance the City’s emergency transport services contract. That decision ignited a firestorm within the community, the embers of which continue to burn, as it sparked accusations of “pay to play” politics  and led to Torrance based Gerber Ambulance closing its doors after 20 years serving the community.

To hear McCormick’s side of the story, I recently had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Joe Chidley, the CEO of McCormick. When we were setting up the meeting, Joe noted “tongue and cheek” that he was available 24/7. Of course Joe doesn’t literally live at the office, but what I realized almost immediately is that he lives and breathes McCormick. His grandmother started the business and its been a huge part of his life. It’s almost as if the business is an extension of the man. He takes great pride in his company and is eager to show it off.

That pride seemed infectious. A palatable sense of purpose, and being part of a team, rather than just doing a job pervaded the atmosphere amongst the employees. Given that pride, it is not surprising that Joe believes McCormick is the best in the business. After seeing him and his employees in action, it is hard to argue with him.

McCormick Communications Center

McCormick Communications Center

McCormick’s equipment is state of the art. Evidence of this is the impressive communications center located across the hall from his office. There, trained and ready dispatchers await incoming calls as a large screen displays a map of McCormick’s territory that spreads from Malibu to Palos Verdes.  Each ambulance’s exact location is pinpointed by green dots that turn red as they receive a call. You can track their progress to the scene real time as they respond to the emergency calls.

Joe will often hit the streets himself and as a trained paramedic is no stranger to an emergency scene. He struck me as a man that has seen pretty much everything and could handle himself in any situation. For that reason, I felt calm as I sat next to him while he drove with lights blazing and expertly maneuvered through traffic to the scene of several 911 calls.

He told me that being out on the front lines like that is part of a “not only expect but inspect” leadership model which enables him to keep abreast of every aspect of his company’s operations.  I am sure that’s true, but I also suspect that even after 30 plus years in the business that he’s still hooked to that adrenaline rush that comes with trauma. Indeed, I sensed a twinge of disappointment when the traffic collision and other incidents we responded to turned out to be relatively minor affairs.  “A whole lot of nothing” as Joe put it.

Past Election

Torrance McCormickMcCormick made headlines in the past election for its campaign contributions made in support of Mayor Furey. When I asked why they did it Joe bristled at any notion of foul play. He explained that all they wanted was a fair shake in Torrance. When the contract was awarded in 2011, they were the highest evaluated bidder out of 5 companies.  Gerber was evaluated 4th yet despite that low ranking was still awarded the contract.

Joe attributed that to “cronyism” and felt that as long as former Mayor Scotto held power in Torrance that his company would never get a fair deal.  He saw that as a travesty because in his mind it cost the residents of Torrance the benefit of receiving the higher quality of service he believes McCormick could provide.

He viewed Sutherland and Brewer, the other recent candidates for Mayor, as pawns for Mayor Scotto and for that reason backed Furey who he felt would give McCormick the best chance to be treated fairly. He refutes any “pay to play” allegations and said he never asked Mayor Furey to do anything as pay back for his support.

Joe even confided to me his personal belief that he wished there was less money in politics and that the government instituted stricter regulations on how much money politicians and their supporting PAC’s could receive. Yet, despite his personal misgivings, they gave the money because in his view the reality of the situation is that is how the game is played.

In retrospect, he questioned whether his support made much of a difference in the election. He attributed Furey’s win more to a split among the Republican vote between Brewer and Sutherland than the monetary support McCormick provided.

Current Performance

McCormick RigJoe has made ensuring Torrance Fire Department (TFD) is satisfied a top priority and believes TFD is very pleased with their overall performance.  As a larger company, Joe believes McCormick offers certain advantages over what smaller enterprises like Gerber could provide.  For example, should an incident occur requiring a response from more units than are typically assigned to the City they are able to tap units posted in neighboring cities to provide additional support.

When I asked about response times, Joe acknowledged McCormick had come up a little short on this requirement.  He did stress, however, that though they had missed in some months that they were compliant in others such as February and March and that his expectation is that they will meet the requirement in the future as they committed to do.

I asked if they were aided in their response times by being called “code 3” (lights and sirens) versus “code 2” (no lights and sirens). He said that TFD, as was their custom with Gerber, continues to initiate all calls at a Code 2 response.  He noted this as something he hoped the City would consider changing as doing so would not only ensure they met response times, but more importantly, it would lead to better patient care in some circumstances where they might be first to the scene due to their proximity to the call.

He also acknowledged McCormick has yet to establish the CAD to CAD interface as required per the contract.  That, however, is not for a lack of trying. He showed me lengthy correspondence between McCormick and TFD’s software provider Spillman trying to establish the interface. Those conversations are ongoing and it is something Joe hopes to have wrapped up soon.

Looking to the Future

I also inquired about next year’s election.  Joe said they did not have plans to contribute at the same level, but might as they remain committed to strongly opposing any candidate they feel would not treat them fairly.

In addition to responding to emergency calls, McCormick has also quietly been very active in the community. As just a few examples, they have contributed significant amounts of money to organizations like the Torrance Education Foundation, Relay for Life, and the Cultural Arts Center. In addition, they are currently in the process of installing Automated External Defibrillators (AED’s) in various locations throughout the City at no charge.

McCormick hopes to continue what they believe is a strong partnership with TFD and the City for many years to come. Joe shot down persistent rumors in the community that TFD will soon be taking over the transport services as he does not believe that will happen anytime soon. McCormick’s future in Torrance is uncertain, however, as the City has not notified them whether they intend to exercise the option to extend their current contract for another year or solicit new bids.

I personally was sad to see Gerber lose the contract and close its doors, but I am pleased to report that an afternoon with Joe went a long way to convincing me that Torrance is in good hands with McCormick. I am willing to give them a fair shake and I hope the rest of Torrance is as well.

8 comments

  • Patrick D. Garvey

    I’m glad you made the effort, Clint, to get another part of the story. Now, when are we going to see an interview of someone responsible for this relationship in the Torrance Fire Department?

  • Arthur J Plourde

    Hey Clint: When do you find the time here between all your work and other things you do to have this opportunity to visit with the CEO of our new Ambulance Service provider for the City of Torrance? I think what you have done here is most commendable for providing an insight for the citizens of Torrance regarding a new service contractor that is vital to the city. I believe whole heartedly that the review provided on this new service was somewhat if not all biased within the City Managers perview as many there seem to want to have their own favorites selectted for many of the cities needs. Look what happened with the city awarding a 65K of the Torrance Citizens money to a single person and doing it for many years now. I firmly believe the City Manager needs to be replaced and his staff along with him. When people in Government do not do the best for the community then the Community must demand changes for their benefit. Case in pont the railroad job I received without benefit of fair practices being employed. Also the city has NO procedure in place what so ever that provides for complaints to be filed, reviewed, and considered at a private board not at a public hearing unless there was some sort of significant and pertinent need to do so. I say the City of Torrance is a one sided proposition in most cases and those at the helm don’t even understand the damage they do. Ok once again great job on your part and the CEO is to be commended for being so willing to open the doors for your inquiry.

    • anonymous

      I would have asked about the FPPC investigation into Campaign coordination. What ever happened with that? Why was there a PAC that included only McCormick and the TFD, with both donating unprecedented amounts of cash? Were these large sums necessary to get a “fair” shake? If so, why? Did Gerber ever donate a like sum to Mayor Scotto? What was Joe’s explanation for the cover letter offering to help transition ambulance service to the TFD? There are still plenty of unanswered questions.

      • John

        You have no idea what you are talking about accusing Mccormick of anything shadey. They have the most respectable management team that I have ever seen. I recall a year or so ago before the company was even contracted with Torrance, there was a little Italian restaurant that offered part of a days income f or a Torrance family whose house had burned down. Mccormick shuffled all their on c u to crews threw that restraunt all day and paid for their meals to help that family. No one ever heard about it , but that’s because the p r pole at Mccormick actually care, and they did it to help a family in need. I have also seen them in years past volunteering to be at safety day for My Gym in Torrance after being asked if they could be there. They also have a great team that goes out to schools and educates children on saftey, eating right, emergency situations, ect. They also teach the children sidewalk CPR. 90% of people who suffer out of hospital cardiac arrests die. In just a few minutes the students can be taught how to double or triple a loved ones chance at survival by just doing chest compressions until help arrives. 70 percent of all cardiac arrests occur at home so, they help the kids learn how to help a family member or friend double or triple their chance at survival. Less than three percent of the nearly 326,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survive nationwide. Only 39 percent of victims receive CPR from a bystander. Mccormick doesn’t want people to be bystanders in a cardiac emergency. There are just so many commendable things that I have seen from this company. I am overwhelmingly happy that they will be servicing Torrance now. They are very Welcome here!

        • anonymous

          It’s not McCormick that I’m worried about. They only do the ambulance service. What about every other issue that comes up in Torrance? There’s been a lot of questionable calls. Hopefully the FPPC investigation clears everyone…if it ever concludes and the results are ever published. It was opened in Nov 2014. Is no one curious?

      • Anonymous

        Scotto bought his first election with $200k of his own money. And then nobody ran against him the second time. But he was definitely getting the hook up from Gerber on the back end… And his cronies got donations from Gerber every single election.

  • Anonymous

    What about the investigations into Tom Brewer’s campaign? It is impossible to understand any of his campaign finance reports or to track the money. And what about the lies he spread in the community about Sutherland and Furey? Or continues to spread at Texas Loosey’s where he drinks with Scotto, Mike Griffiths, Don Lee and Nick Green? I’ve seen the photos LOL

  • Annie

    Well, the FPPC has spoken, and we are all going to see what happens next Tuesday. Stay tuned.

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