“You have to be really on the ball, listening carefully to what people are saying and picking up clues about the situation. Even when the adrenalin's pumping you have to stay calm and reassuring for the caller.”
There are seven of us in our department: three call takers, three dispatchers and a control manager. As a calltaker, it is my job to process emergency calls; these come mainly from the public but also GPs and hospitals. The dispatchers control the resources in the county,- there are around 30 on the road in Dorset, along with Rapid Response Vehicles, and an Air Ambulance. It's a demanding job, working twelve hour shifts and sometimes taking over 350 calls in one day. With 999 calls from the public, the call taker types the relevant information onto a screen which is then transferred straight to the dispatchers. All the relevant information is sent directly to screens in the ambulances themselves; even their satellite navigation is programmed automatically so that they immediately know where to go.
Other calls come from GPs' surgeries, when a serious but 'non blue light' patient has to be sent to hospital as soon as possible. I'm also trained to give medical advice over the phone: like when a baby's arriving faster than the midwife and I have to talk the parents through the delivery!
Today I've taken around forty calls in about five hours. Sometimes lots of people call in about the same incident: this morning two people were hit by a car in a car park, and we had lots of calls. The most common calls involve falls in the street, chest pains and traffic collisions. We don't get many hoaxes: the last one I had was eight months ago. Instead, people are generally really well intentioned. The job can be very emotional when the calls are really serious. A while back I had a call from the parents of a three week baby who'd stopped breathing. As they waited for the ambulance to arrive I had to talk them through what to do. Over time I guess you get tougher.