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

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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Inmates at Metchosin’s William Head Institution are being given COVID-19 vaccines as part of the first phase. Around 600 inmates will be vaccinated in the coming days. (Black Press Media file photo)
William Head inmates in Metchosin receive their first doses of COVID vaccine

Priority set for older inmates and those with underlying medical conditions

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Dallas Road

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Firefighters respond to a fire on Heatherly Road in Colwood Jan. 19. (Photo courtesy of View Royal Fire Rescue)
Two people escape injury in Colwood house fire

Heatherly Road fire started on a covered porch

A Sooke woman is speaking up after she was almost tricked by a lottery scam, claiming she had won $950,000 with Set for Life Lottery. (File Photo)
‘I wanted it to be true so badly’: Sooke woman almost falls for lottery scam

88-year-old received letter stating she had won $950,000

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Updated: Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A mattress on fire gutted the second floor hallway at Town Park Apartments C-block Jan. 17. (Port Hardy Fire Rescue images)
‘Suspicious’ Port Hardy apartment fire could keep tenants out of their homes for months

A burning mattress created smoke and heat, causing several tenants to jump from windows

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

Most Read