Cool, calm, col­lected and car­ing

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Janie Smith

When Robyn More­ton picks up the phone, she never knows what kind of emer­gency will be tak­ing place on the other end of the line.

Sit­ting in the Emer­gency Am­bu­lance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Cen­tre, known as North Comms, she works for 12-day stretches an­swer­ing 111 calls and mak­ing sure peo­ple get the help they need.

The main com­mu­ni­ca­tions room is di­vided in two – half the desks manned by com­mu­ni­ca­tors and the other by dis­patch­ers, the peo­ple who send the am­bu­lance on its way.

Robyn joined the team in Septem­ber 2006 and was work­ing as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor two months later.

Work­ing across four linked com­puter screens, she codes calls ac­cord­ing to pri­or­ity, pulls up maps and takes de­tails, all while keep­ing the caller calm and giv­ing in­struc­tions.

She went for the role af­ter re­turn­ing to New Zealand from the UK and says it was a com­plete ca­reer change af­ter work­ing for a phone com­pany.

“It was a huge learn­ing curve, not only learn­ing the sys­tem but also the com­puter sys­tem, look­ing at four screens and co­or­di­nat­ing things to­gether.”

When a call comes in, Robyn’s first job is to work out what’s go­ing on with a set of ba­sic ques­tions.

De­tails are then sent to the dis­patch­ers, who send out a crew.

“It can be a pres­surised job but it’s down to the in­di­vid­ual. It is ex­cit­ing but it does get full on when it’s all kick­ing off.”

Al­though tak­ing her first call was a nerve-wrack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, she man­aged to keep her cool.

“My heart was pound­ing in my chest, but I put on an ex­te­rior and kept my voice sound­ing calm.”

Main­tain­ing that steady voice is one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of the job, she says, es­pe­cially when try­ing to get in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple in dif­fi­cult and trau­matic sit­u­a­tions.

“If you sound like you’re pan­ick­ing, you’re giv­ing them per­mis­sion to panic. You’ve got to sound like they rang the right per­son and you are go­ing to help.”

Once the caller is calm and lis­ten­ing to in­struc­tions they feel bet­ter.

“They feel like they are be­ing proac­tive and help­ing whoever it is.”

The cen­tre deals with about 1500 calls a day, of which 500 are emer­gen­cies.

Robyn loves the role and says she prob­a­bly couldn’t go back to a nor­mal nine­to­job.

“It’s a real priv­i­lege to be in­vited in by some­one in a mo­ment in their lives where it’s a re­ally per­sonal and in­tense time. It may be a friend or fam­ily mem­ber and some­thing trau­matic is hap­pen­ing.

“They in­vite you in to get an am­bu­lance to them and tell them what to do. I find it in­cred­i­ble.”

Some­times the caller will ask her to stay on the line with them and keep talk­ing while they are wait­ing for the am­bu­lance.

“It’s a hugely re­ward­ing job. Be­fore they hang up they thank me. There’s no other job like it.”

Deal­ing with trauma ev­ery day can be tough, es­pe­cially when the call­ers are small chil­dren or el­derly peo­ple, says Robyn.

“You’ve got to be able to dis­tance your­self and sep­a­rate your per­sonal and work worlds. But some calls do make it inside the lit­tle wall you build up.”

When that hap­pens, she goes for a walk and has a chat with friends to clear her head.

The cen­tre also pro­vides sup­port for com­mu­ni­ca­tors if they need it.

But not all the calls are doom and gloom.

One lady called and gave her an ad­dress in Waihi but Robyn couldn’t find the street in ques­tion and the caller was un­able to give her a house num­ber.

“I said, ‘Are you there with the per­son?’ and she said she wasn’t, she was call­ing from Auck­land.”

When asked how she knew some­thing was hap­pen­ing, the wo­man said she had seen it in a crys­tal ball.

“She said she could sense some­one was not well in that street in Waihi.”

Team man­ager Kath Caulfield has also had peo­ple phone and ask for the Lotto num­bers and one wo­man phoned who was con­vinced she was in Wales.

Calls can be traced as long as peo­ple are us­ing land lines, but it takes up valu­able time and com­mu­ni­ca­tors pre­fer call­ers to be able to give an ad­dress.

Kath says the op­er­a­tion runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and com­mu­ni­ca­tors can take calls from around the coun­try.

When a call comes in from out­side the north­ern re­gion, the de­tails are au­to­mat­i­cally passed on to the other com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­tres in Welling­ton and Christchurch.

“Peo­ple com­ing into the ser­vice need to have good ge­o­graph­i­cal knowl­edge,” says Kath.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tors work for 12 days and then have four days off. “Peo­ple love it be­cause of the lifestyle it en­ables them to have.”

But com­mu­ni­ca­tors need to em­ploy a wide range of skills to do the job suc­cess­fully.

“You’ve got to be able to mul­ti­task, re­main calm and be able to calm some­one down who is in a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion,” she says.

Good lis­ten­ing skills are also es­sen­tial.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tors spend six weeks train­ing be­fore they set foot in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions room, where they are as­signed a men­tor.

Any­one in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tor can phone 336-0399.


Find­ing emer­gen­cies: Am­bu­lance com­mu­ni­ca­tors work across four screens to pull up maps and de­tails.

Spe­cial pro­fes­sion: Robyn More­ton loves her role as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor.

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