Life of a 999 call handler
Bradley Murray explains what it's like to answer 999 calls at North East Ambulance Service.
Have you ever thought about what it might be like to answer a 999 call?
Calling 999 is often one of the most distressing moments in a person's life.Your loved one may have been involved in an accident; they may have stopped breathing.
But what about the people who take that call, and hundreds of other calls just like yours, every day?
We've spoken to 22-year-old 999 call handler Bradley Murray, who has been answering calls for our service for the last three years.
Here's what he told us.
"When most people think of the ambulance service, they picture flashing blue lights and heroes dressed in green. Rightly so. But what you don’t think of is the people you speak to before they arrive. People like me.
"I’m an emergency call operator for the North East Ambulance Service, and I can honestly say it is the most rewarding job I have ever had.
"I take each call knowing that it could potentially be the most important and serious call that person has ever had to make. On a routine shift I could deal with road traffic collisions, major trauma, assaults, births, strokes, heart attacks, respiratory problems and cardiac arrests. The list is endless.
"One of the most difficult calls though is definitely CPR. They’re traumatic for everyone, including me. But that’s part of the job - I’m there to take control of the situation until physical help gets there, and every second is crucial. It’s these calls that really make you appreciate how precious life is, and make me really proud of my role.
"Unfortunately though, for every one of these valid calls, there’s an equal number of time wasters – the daily nuisance and hoax calls. Some result in an unnecessary ambulance, others leave me wasting time trying to call back to make sure they’re ok – all taking resources away from someone who actually needs us. It’s unbelievably frustrating and it truly does put lives at risk.
"Then we have the self-inflicted – those who are intoxicated or have taken legal highs and in need of an ambulance.
"We will help anyone who is in genuine need of medical attention, but our service is here for life threatening emergencies – not because you got too drunk and need a lift home. One of the pet peeves amongst call operators is the phrase “I ordered a taxi-I mean ambulance- 15 minutes ago…and it’s still not here”. We must hear phrases such as this at least five times each on any given weekend night. It’s infuriating knowing that people have this sense of entitlement as if an ambulance is their right, whether they are in genuine medical need or not.
"I regularly have to deal with abuse over the phone; I’ve heard obscenities I had never heard before and have been threatened in unthinkable ways.
"I’ve learnt to take these threats with a pinch of salt as the majority of abuse comes from intoxicated people. I like to think that if they were sober they’d be mortified if they knew what they’d said to someone who had tried to help them. Still, it’s not something we should have to deal with.
"I love my job, it’s complex and sometimes seems thankless but there is no better feeling than going home at the end of the day knowing you may have helped save someone’s life. All I wish is that people thought before they dial 999, didn’t take the service for granted and appreciated the help they receive.
"If I could give three pieces of advice for a caller to 999 it would be:
1) Be as accurate with an address as possible. If you’re unsure, look for landmarks/street names/pubs or anything recognisable nearby. We cover the whole of the North East so as much as we try to familiarise ourselves with different areas it’s impossible for us to know every single street/place/pub/landmark
2) Be prepared to answer questions. The questions we ask may not seem important to you but we ask them for a reason, to enable us to help you until the crew arrives. One of the ‘silly questions’ we ask might just save your life.
3) Listen fully to the care advice we give - it’s important and that is how you can help until we get there."