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

 

Just Posted

A patio built by The Village is shared by three eateries in Estevan. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay eateries sharing communal patio space in Estevan Village

The Village invested $25,000 in streetside patio, hopes to make it permanent

Victoria police are searching for high-risk missing woman Chloe Morrison who was last seen in Victoria June 13. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Chloe Morrison, last seen in Victoria

Morrison, 25, was last seen shortly after 2 p.m. June 13

Proposed design for the Topaz Park bike and skate park elements. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria requesting feedback on Topaz Park redesign

Public input now being taken for proposed skate, bike park ideas

An SUV sits where it crashed through the front window of the 2:18 Run store in Fairfield Plaza, after the driver appeared to lose control on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Phil Nicholls)
Driver crashes through front window of Victoria running store in Fairfield

Phil Nicholls of 2:18 Run said crash sounded like an earthquake at first

Sasha Perron of Langford is preparing to run a half marathon on Saturday, 10 kilometres Sunday, 21.5 km on Tuesday and so on until he’s totalled 216 kilometres. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Indigenous man to run 215 kilometres, plus one for children waiting to be found

Donations to Sasha Perron’s fundraiser to benefit Indian Residential School Survivors Society

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

Most Read