For the past 28 years, Santa Monicans in need of medical aid might have met Mike McElvaney when they called 9-1-1. The longtime Santa Monica firefighter has maintained an active paramedic certification throughout the duration of his service with the Santa Monica Fire Department, but he will probably have less time to practice those skills due to his recent promotion to battalion chief.
McElvaney said he has always loved being a firefighter and particularly enjoyed his time as a captain, as the position provides leadership experience while retaining the ability to be hands-on during a crisis. His new position allows for less time in the field, and he said he is adjusting to the change.
“In the profession of the fire service, it’s really rewarding that we truly get to help people in need,” he said. “I won’t be the guy that’s there with the Band-Aid anymore, and that will be different. It’s still new to me, and I’ll get used to it, but it’s a challenge to stand back and coordinate.”
He said he felt he could do more for the department by pursuing the battalion chief position.
“I got to the point where I felt I had to take the next step and, in a sense, pay back the department and take on a bigger leadership role,” he said.
Fire Chief Scott Ferguson said McElvany’s decades of experience make him well-suited for the job.
“The fire department has undergone significant turnover in the past five years,” he said. “While the new faces and promotions have generated some positive energy, we have also lost a great deal of valuable experience and institutional memory. Chief McElvaney is like a rock in turbulent waters. His experience, perspectives, and calming demeanor provide all our members with a sense that everything is going to be OK. On a personal level, his years on the department also afford me with a great sounding board.”
Ferguson said McElvaney’s skills as a paramedic are increasingly valuable to the department.
“Responding on medical emergencies makes up a substantial part of our calls for service. Chief McElvaney remaining a paramedic deepens his understanding of what is expected of our first responders,” he said. “Our firefighters are accountable for remaining in tune with all fire and EMS best practices, including alterations in protocol. As an example, Chief McElvaney has been a lead in a fresh effort to consider the future of Community Paramedicine within Los Angeles County. Santa Monica is currently undergoing training that would allow an option to transport our patients with minor injuries to a clinic rather than the emergency room.”
McElvany said he had seen a lot of changes in his career, and said he expects to continue his education in his new position.
“I’m still learning, I’m taking management classes and this position requires a different mindset,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s nice to have this challenge at this point in my career.”
McElvaney grew up in Southern California and came to SMFD from Los Angeles.
“This is a great city to work for — we have a really nice, progressive, forward-thinking town,” he said. “The department is small enough that you can really initiate change and see the impact of your actions.”
He cited the formation of Santa Monica’s hazardous materials team 20 years ago as an example of firefighters creating positive change.
“We identified this need because we realized that regardless of the training we actually had, we would have to go on those calls or rely on mutual aid from Los Angeles every time something came up,” he said.
Under his watch, McElvaney said, the department will have to tackle challenges related to the city’s growth. He said the entire department will be challenged by the opening of the Expo light-rail line, and part of his job will be helping to redeploy some of the department’s equipment to account for the expected road closures. He said the constantly rising call volume, increasing by about 5 percent each year, is a perennial challenge but one that can be met with additions like the department’s new rescue ambulance unit.
“Santa Monica is lucky to have the best of the best serving its citizens and guests — Chief McElvaney continues a tradition of providing excellent leadership to his people and remarkable customer service to the community,” Ferguson said.