Riding Shotgun with 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’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.
McCormick 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.
Joe 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.