Firefighters responding to medical emergencies have a new ambulance company following them to the scene. The City recently switched to McCormick Ambulance Services after five years with Ameri-Care Ambulance.

While the city does not pay the ambulance services, a city contract can be lucrative to the paramedic companies. Every three out of four calls to the fire department are for medical emergencies, according to statistics provided Captain Patrick Nulty with the SMFD. The department responded to 22,345 medical calls in 2017 and calls increased by 5 percent in the last year.

“Currently approximately 7,500 patients are transported annually to local hospitals,” said the staff report presented to Council when they approved the deal with McCormick. “The Fire Department’s response model includes six paramedic engine companies, two rescue ambulance paramedic non-transport unit, and other support units deployed as needed. The department also maintains two additional rescue ambulances that are mainly used for special events and non-transport responses. Contracted emergency ambulances are used to transport patients on behalf of the Fire Department with Santa Monica Fire Department paramedics on-board to provide patient treatment in the ambulance while en route to a medical facility.”

Last year, the city averaged about 20 ambulance trips per day in just eight square miles and officials said the new provider will maintain the level of service residents are used to.

“There will be no change in the level of service. I want to stress that. The fire department is still providing paramedic services. We’re still going to every 911 call that requires medical intervention. The only difference is the company going with us,” Nulty said.

McCormick Operations Manager Mike Jones says the company operates at zero cost to the city since patients get the bill. McCormick will also bill the patient on behalf of SMFD for services they provide.

Jones said residents will notice six brand new fire-engine red ambulances in the city.

“We provide an excellent service,” Jones said in a brief phone interview. “McCormick has been around since the early ‘60s.”

The company operates in 30 cities across Los Angeles County and was one of two to bid on the Santa Monica contract. The contract is for three years with two potential one-year renewals.

“They’ve been around for a long time,” Nulty said.

A Santa Monica firefighter will continue to ride along with any patients in the back of the ambulance to the hospital.

“McCormick Ambulance’s proposal demonstrated their depth and breadth of experience and their organizational structure displayed their highly qualified personnel,” Fire Chief Bill Walker wrote in a staff report to the City Council in January, asking them to approve the contract.

Rates for ambulance service are set by Los Angeles County. An ambulance operator can charge up to $1,970 for non-emergency calls with equipment and personnel. An emergency 911 call can cost a patient without insurance up to $2,108, according to rates effective July 1, 2017. The operator can also bill for special charges like oxygen ($94), neonatal transport ($211), and disposable medical supplies ($27).

A letter from McCormick’s CEO posted on the company’s website said the service merged with American Medical Response (AMR) last year.

“As AMR’s partner, we will have access to the national resources and infrastructure support services hospitals and health systems demand. We will also keep our existing management structure and continue to operate at McCormick Ambulance Service,” said Joe Chidley.

In 2016, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey for accepting $35,000 in illegal campaign contributions from McCormick Ambulance two years earlier. The FPPC said Furey never reported the contributions. McCormick later received a contract to work with the fire department there.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press