Emergency medical dispatcher Bill Hadden takes a call at the EMD dispatch centre in the Vancouver Island Tech Park.

Staying calm, confident and clear

B.C. Ambulance Service guide callers through every emergency

The first call I answered was a little too easy. A 79-year-old woman in the 3000-block of Douglas St. had a stomach ache. I typed in the Saanich address into the empty field on the monitor in front of me and asked the caller a series of questions about her illness.

ProQA, the program used by emergency medical dispatchers for the B.C. Ambulance Service, confirmed the minor sickness, categorized the call as low-priority and an ambulance was sent out to the familiar locale – or at least it would have been, had I answered an actual phone call.

Instead, I was responding to Bill Hadden, the emergency medical dispatcher leading me through a media training session Aug. 16 in the ambulance service’s Saanich training facility.

Despite the low stakes, the pressure was on when Hadden took on his second role of my faux training session – a condensed 10-minute overview of a three-week-long training course.

From the seat behind me, Hadden transformed into a caller from a street address I’ve never heard of and had no idea how to spell. Finally I ask the caller and he tells me it’s in Boston Bar – a tiny community I admit I had to Google later to locate. The caller’s 78-year-old father has collapsed and isn’t breathing.

After what felt like 20 minutes of scripted questions, I arrive at ProQA’s suggestion: cardiac arrest. The process would take a trained dispatcher about 90 seconds to complete, Hadden said.

But even with the quickest dispatcher the arrival  of an ambulance takes time.

Last month when Nicholas Woodiwiss’s heart stopped while riding his bicycle in Royal Oak, four bystanders performed life-saving cardiopulmonary respiration. The incident earned the bystanders a Vital Link award for the action they took in the nine-minutes before paramedics arrived and exemplified the zero-minute response time the ambulance service strives to achieve.

“You need to be reassuring,” Hadden said of the process of empowering callers with the knowledge they need to support the patient, which often includes administering potentially life-saving treatment. “You, yourself need to be calm, confident and clear. You need to direct people even when they’re not confident or losing hope.”

Meanwhile a counter tool popped up on the monitor to my left. Like a metronome, it set the pace for compressions. I told the caller I’ll count out loud while they perform chest compressions.

Leading a caller through CPR isn’t a situation Hadden deals with every day, necessarily, but after four years on the job, and thousands of phone calls, it’s one he’s used to managing. Part of that management involves asking questions exactly as they appear in ProQA – without changing a single word and risking a change from the original meaning – while counselling individuals through extremely traumatic events.

“You’ve gotta know when to rein them back in. Most people submit to requests,” he said. “You have to know what type of person you’re dealing with. Everyone’s subtly different.”

West Shore RCMP dispatcher Chelsea Chang was commended for keeping a five-year-old girl on the phone after the girl’s mother suffered from an epileptic seizure and lay unconscious outside her Langford home on Aug. 15.

Though Chang’s ability to remain calm and communicate with the young caller involves the same kind of care required of a B.C. Ambulance Service dispatcher, Hadden points to one of the major differences between ambulance dispatchers and those with other emergency services: the volume of calls.

Last year, B.C. Ambulance Service responded to 486,000 events across the province, or an average of 56 events per hour from three centres, whereas police and fire services are administered regionally.

The ground fleet travels 20.2 million kilometres per year or more than 500 trips around the world. The B.C. Ambulance Service currently employs 3,668 paramedics and dispatchers provincewide, and they’re looking for more. By welcoming media into their training room, the service is also hoping to attract new members for dispatcher training in September – if they’ve got the right skills.

It all comes down to compassion, flexibility and adaptability, according to Corinne Begg, provincial dispatch training officer.

“(Dispatchers need) the ability to remain calm in very stressful situations and to remain calm with all of the stimulation going on around you,” Begg said. “We’re looking for someone who’s able to have a lot going on at the same time.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

– With files from Kyle Wells

 

Just Posted

Moms of those killed by illicit opioids take to B.C. Legislature in call for action

Moms Stop the Harm, a nationwide network of families who have lost loved ones to overdoses rally

Victoria man wins job he was denied after saying he had depression

Transport Canada has been order to give Chris Hughes a high-level job and nearly $500,000

Saanich mayor pitches former Emily Carr library as housing site

Residents share concerns, support over Regina Park tent city

Gun, drugs and cash seized in arrest of alleged Victoria fentanyl dealer

Brent Connors is facing nine charges in relation to the investigation

Sooke Road bus pullouts now operational, says province

Pullouts are located at the West Shore Parkway, Laidlaw Road and Harbourview Road

VIDEO: Canadian toddler caught practising hockey skills in crib

Eli Graveline is getting praise from far and wide as the internet freaks out of cute throwback video

WEB POLL: Should illegal immigrants be separated from their children?

Should illegal immigrants be separated from their children?… Continue reading

5 fun things to do this weekend in Greater Victoria

Victoria Ska and Reggae Fest, Ride Don’t Hide, Cordova Bay Day and more

B.C. teacher ends Jeopardy! winning streak, taking home US$69,000

Ali Hasan, from New Westminster, has been gaining fans as a “one-man invasion,” says Alex Trebek

Jett Woo highlights 5 Canucks choices on Day 2 of NHL entry draft

WHL star out of Moose Jaw tabbed in Round 2

In a matter of hours, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive

Change was announced as a royal decree in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammen bin Salman

Feds announce measures to protect endangered whale species

Canada’s Whale Initiative is part of the federal government’s $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan

COC session vote approves Calgary as potential host for 2026 Olympics

Scott Hutcheson, chair of Calgary’s Olympic bid corporation — called vote a positive step forward

Mounties seize 1,500 pot plants in ‘extensive Shawnigan raid

Mounties searched a property in the 4800-block of Goldstream Heights Drive on May 30

Most Read