Imagine answering the phone to hear an anxious young women who's found her 82-year-old father unconscious after dinner. He's not breathing and you have to coach her through CPR-could you keep your cool?
The B.C. Ambulance Service is putting out a call for a new class of 20 new emergency medical dispatchers for its Vancouver centre and it needs people who can withstand the pressure.
"It's not just somebody that says, 'hey, what's your address?' We'll be right there_ the person on the end of the line is going to be your lifeline and is going to help you provide a zero minute response to your loved one," explained Gordon Kirk, director of dispatch centre operations.
There are 240 dispatchers in B.C., 125 of which are in Vancouver. The recruitment drive will help replace shuffled staff who have filled new positions at the dispatch centre. With 20 new recruits, the centre can also service an increasing amount of calls.
"There's a greater proliferation of cellphones. So, as a result_there may be more calls related to the same incident. Every single one of those need to be triaged," Kirk said.
Corinne Begg has trained new recruits for over six years, and took the helm as provincial dispatch training officer last year. "It is an exciting career," Begg said.
While EMDs are armed with provincial maps with logged addresses and specific scripts for emergency calls, they need to be well-trained professionals. Every minute counts and could be the difference between life and death for the people at the other end of the line.
But the hardest and most crucial part of the job is learning to keep information straight, she explained. "[It's] really trying to help them learn how to organize chaos."
Kirk said new employees need to think quickly, listen closely and understand the emergency. They have to be prepared to make some crucial decisions. "It's a young, fast paced environment, so it's always changing. No day is the same."
The training program lasts four months in total, Kirk said. And even before their first day of training, potential EMDs are expected to have CPR, level 2 of occupational first aid, great typing skills and know their geography.
"If I call you up and say there's an accident on the Second Narrows Bridge and you don't know where that is, we could have some trouble," said Kirk.
Begg provided a 15-minute run through of a course that's actually meant to last three weeks. A few simulations showed how dispatchers need to keep calm, even in the face of major trauma or death.
"This is a lot of information for them to know, so it can be overwhelming. We try to keep their spirits up and inspired," she said.
The career isn't for the faint of heart. Those interested in applying to be an emergency medial dispatcher are asked to apply on the B.C. Ambulance Service website at bcas.ca.