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Chris Mazza, former CEO of Ornge. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Chris Mazza, former CEO of Ornge. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

EXCLUSIVE

The former CEO of Ornge breaks his silence Add to ...

AW handily won an exhaustive procurement competition, over six rival bids. The procurement team reported to me, but I wasn’t at the negotiating table. I have no knowledge of how to build helicopters or what they cost. I asked, “Is that a good price? … Yes? … Great. Let’s go.”

On Ornge’s purchase of Canadian Helicopters Limited’s fleet of 11 S-76 Sikorskys for $28-million, while it awaited the new AWs:

That decision was made only after CHL, sole bidder on our 2008 RFP for rotary service, asked for $49.5-million a year, up from $31-million in 2007. I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified. The alternative was to shut down Ornge bases. The ministry was informed. “Good luck with that,” they said. There was no discussion about going to cabinet [for more money]. And later, some of the Skiorskys could not be sold. Rusted tail booms. So you tell me we didn’t need to replace the fleet? Really?

On criticism of the AW interior design, which could prevent CPR from being performed:

The Sikorsky S-76 was one of my biggest bugbears. You could not intubate. With the new models, we got to build an interior that made sense. I don’t know what we could have done differently. But the CPR issue applied only in very limited circumstances – if you went into cardiac arrest on takeoff or landing. In the old choppers, a medic had to break the law by getting out of his seat to check the patient in flight. In the AWs, the medic’s seat moves with the patient. In general, the new helicopters yielded exponential advantages.

On whether Ornge should have built a prototype before committing to an entire fleet:

Do you have any idea what that would have cost? In military procurement, it’s a factor of six [times as much]. I did not have that luxury.

On the subsequent bill for more than $12-million in system upgrades:

I agreed to pay $6.7-million, almost a 50-per-cent reduction. We were going to have a 20-year relationship with Agusta. You buy their equipment and you are married. There is massive dependency. I’m running a 24/7 critical service. What if there are issues? What if a helicopter needs a part and I’m put back in line?

One the apparent extravagance of Ornge’s $50,000 wakeboard speedboat and two custom-built motorcycles:

The bikes [with a value of $150,000] were gifted by AgustaWestland to boost the profile of the Ornge Foundation, our patient-care promoting charity. This is customary for hospitals and other institutions – asking for a directed gift as part of a purchase contract. We were proud of it. We wanted to get a safety message out. The boat? I never saw the boat. I never rode in the boat.

In memory of my son, Joshua, we also set up J Smarts, a charitable endeavour to teach risk-management skills to teen athletes. I’d taught Josh everything I knew and he was taught by coaches. Yet he still died. What was missing? Well, we teach children what to do and what not to do, but we don’t teach them how to make decisions in circumstances they’ve never encountered. We were teaching physics, acceleration and de-acceleration. It’s much safer to do that on water. Some 25,000 children went through the curriculum.

Note: Although the charities [and all of Ornge’s for-profit businesses] were shut down by the Ministry of Health, J Smarts remains an active program at Muskoka Woods, a youth resort on Lake Rousseau.

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