Life On The Line: Triple Zero Operators Share Their Most Unexpected Calls
The 'other side' of the first response isn't easy. It requires being a great listener, who is able to stay calm and is always prepared to hear the unexpected whether you need police, fire and rescue or ambulance.
Millie Jones has worked as an emergency medical dispatcher for the last six months.
She's responsible for answering the triple-zero calls that come through to Queensland Ambulance, and she says it's one of the most challenging jobs she's had in her life.
Jones wants to be a paramedic. She has always known that she wanted to work for emergency services and took the job as a dispatcher in order to get more experience in "the other side" of first-response -- getting the ability to stay calm and communicate well during a crisis.
"It's nothing like I expected it would be," Jones told 10 daily.
"I have a lot more respect now for EMDs like dispatchers and call-takers. For me, it's one of the hardest jobs I've ever done in my life."
Being the first on the line to answer Queenslanders' triple-zero calls means that you must be ready for anything to be said on the other end of the line.
Jones said some of the calls are way more unexpected than others. One man's sticky situation stood out to her.
"Probably the most memorable was a teenage boy who was calling for his dad," she said.
... His dad had super glued his hands to his face.
"That was one I definitely didn't expect."
Jones said she also received a call from a QAS patient who wanted an ambulance because they said they had discovered maggots living inside their mouth.
"I handled both calls as I would any other call ... they got the help they needed," she said.
But while some calls are more peculiar than others, EMDs also often become a part of the most life-changing moments in people's lives.
"I think the most challenging part is you're talking to someone in what could potentially be the worst moment of their life and there's no way you can help them physically," Jones explained.
"The only tool you have to help them is your voice so I guess as much as you want to do something there's nothing you can do, you can only use your voice."
Jones also revealed how she keeps her cool during times when emotion could get in the way.
She said sometimes EMDs get calls where the people on the line seeking help are too emotional to listen to instructions on what to do.
"In those moments all you can do is use repetitive persistence. Keep giving them instructions and make it as simple as you possibly can, use their names, that helps," she said.
Sometimes you just need to sort of put on a more mum-like voice to sort of be stern with them and say we need to do this now.
Kathy Welch has been a medical dispatcher for almost eight years.
She said the most powerful part of her job is being there to help people through their best and worst days.
"Whether it be helping with the birth of a child or a successful CPR," Welch told 10 daily.
Welch said she was encouraged by her husband to join the emergency services because he thought it would compliment her 'good samaritan' personality.
She said some of the more unusual calls she had received in her time on the job were from older generations, with some callers aged over 100.
"Sometimes the older generation are having a difficult time ... sometimes they need someone to talk to and listen to them," she said.
"I've spoken with God on the phone before," Welch said of a call from a patient suffering mental illness.
She said the key in any situation is to follow protocol.
"Ask them what's going on and just send them an ambulance and have someone speak to them until then," she said.
She said every case is different and it's often important to stay on the line with callers.
She said that's especially important if a person is expressing suicidal thoughts or if it sounds like they are deteriorating.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the time it's fine, but there's one case that you might still have difficulty talking about," she said, reflecting on some of the harder aspects of the job.
"The hardest thing is we when we help people walk through death."
But regardless of the caller or the reason they are seeking help, Welch said it was important to treat each one with respect.
At the end of the day, there is nothing unusual about asking for help with you need it.
"Take it on face value, they've called us because they need help," she said.
For more insight into the Queensland Ambulance Service tune into season three of Ambulance Australia as it returns to screens on Thursday, February 6 at 7.30pm only on Network 10 and WIN.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.