Answering the urgent call for help
DAILY GRIND Kate Breen used to be a chef but changed careers to become a communicator for the New Zealand Police handling 111 calls. Reporter Karina Abadia sat down with her to find out why she loves the challenges and rewards the job offers.
The ultimate in job satisfaction for Kate Breen is being on an emergency call and hearing someone knock on the door at the other end of the line.
‘‘If the caller is having a particularly tough time you can hear the relief in their voice when the police officer walks through the door.’’
Before training as a communicator she worked as a chef for five years but decided she wanted to do something more meaningful.
She had always toyed with the idea of working for the police and had heard that dealing with emergency calls would give her a good overview of what being a police officer involves.
The two-month training period at the Northern Communications Centre was a steep learning curve, the 31-year-old says.
Taking her first live calls in the last week of her training was nerveracking. The worst bit was waiting for that first call but it all went according to plan. Initially she saw the job as a stepping stone to becoming a sworn police officer but a year on she enjoys it so much she’s not sure whether she will swap her headset for a patrol car.
The Grey Lynn based centre receives more than a million calls a year from Cape Reinga to Turangi. Calls can also come in from outside the area when other centres are busy.
About half of all calls represent emergency situations. The nonemergency calls are often related to historic crimes such as burglaries or people phoning the *555 traffic information line.
The Papatoetoe resident gets the full gamut of calls but finds they frequently relate to domestic abuse and historic crimes.
It is a matter of listening to the caller and deciding what priority to give the job.
If the situation requires immediate attention she passes the necessary information through to a dispatcher in the same office who sends police to the address.
An average emergency call lasts for around five and a half minutes but in more complex cases she might speak to someone for an hour or more.
Whatever the reason for the call the key is to stay calm so you can get the information you need from the caller, she says.
‘‘Most people who call are genuinely upset about something. Even if it’s not what I would call an emergency situation it is to them and they are normally quite receptive once you can steer them in the right direction.’’
Ms Breen loves the fact no two calls and no two days are ever the same but more than anything what motivates her is the difference she is able to make.
‘‘Going home each night knowing you’ve done the best you can for each person makes it all worthwhile,’’ she says.
Skilful listener: Communicator Kate Breen takes emergency calls and says no two are ever the same.