Eastern Courier : June 22nd 2011
18 EASTERN COURIER, JUNE 22, 2011 NEWS Vital St John service full of drama St John Week is on this week to raise funds for vital ambulance services which cater for 90 percent of Kiwis. St John services are not fully government funded and community support is relied on to cope with an operating loss of up to $14 million a year. Reporter Rhiannon Horrell spent time with emergency call-takers in the northern communications centre, on the road with an operational team manager and in three lunch rooms to get a glimpse of what the charity does. Managing emergencies: Northern communications centre team manager Keith Hall keeps an eye on ambulance callouts across the top half of the North Island and works closely with 111 call-takers and dispatch staff. Photos: JASON OXENHAM Precious time: St John operational team manager Greg Scott speeds through traffic on Auckland's northern motorway to get to a high priority job. Help is on hand: Onewa Lodge resident Genevieve Bower receives medical attention from paramedic Angela Parry after collapsing during a meal. Reading the signs: Paramedic Angela Parry reads a printout of Ms Bower's heart rate. Whether it be toothache, chest pain, childbirth or nits, St John staff stay at the top of their game to respond to unfolding dramas on a daily basis. And when calling for an ambulance, staff say a surprisingly large number of people have no idea where they are. Northern communications centre team manager Keith Hall keeps an eye on half of the North Island from his post in Mt Wellington. Cellphones cause us huge problems. People may be away on holiday and they come across a crash but don't know where they are. Some- times we ask them to stop traffic or see if they can go to a farmhouse so we can trace them. The ones that worry you are when you have trouble finding someone.'' He recalls a situation where a man had fallen from a wall in the city. I found out he had come from Queen St and gone up a set of stairs and then fell down. We got an ambulance to go down near the site and put its siren on.'' Mr Hall says staff tracked the man by listening through his mobile phone for the siren noises. That siren trick has been used a few times.'' Emergency call-taker Julie Cox says there are big variations in what is perceived to be an emergency. People cope differently. There's people who are dying right down to someone that has nits. Everybody deserves an ambulance but it can be frustrating.'' She says minor things like a sore stomach still need investigation in case it is internal bleeding, chest pain or something serious. We stick to strict protocols and it covers us in a medical sense to make sure we pick up on major issues that patients may have.'' She says there are vague callers who don't feel like talking or patients with dia- betes who have changes in consciousness. Ms Cox says there are also calls from trampers stuck in the bush. We ask them where they entered the track and see if there's anything specific like a building or a landmark that crews can use as a starting point. We also try to find a clearing to see if a helicopter can go in.'' She recalls a call from one person who had twisted their ankle. Ms Cox says they didn't know where they were but they knew they were climbing Mt Doom'' as described in Lord of the Rings. A quick internet search pointed staff towards the central North Island area near Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. Operational team manager Greg Scott spends a lot of time on the road and supports 24 frontline staff. Our staff go through a lot -- they are faced with difficult situations. Sometimes people can be angry because some- thing has happened to their loved one and they're stressed out. We try to be calm and explain things to people. They are frightened. Death is a big part of this job,'' Mr Scott says. We don't save everyone. We cope with grieving families. Sometimes I'll stand a crew down.'' Mr Scott's wife is an emerg- ency department nurse and he says it helps to talk to someone who understands. He remembers one of his first jobs as an ambulance officer. I was four weeks into the job. I attended a cyclist ver- sus lorry accident 15 years ago. I clearly remember that job. I came home and the tears just rolled down my face. I had a couple of beers and said: I don't know if I can do this'.'' But he says there's also black humour. Some people use it as a coping mechanism for the job. There's no point getting overly sad about it. People live and they die. You're never going to change that.'' During the interview, Mr Scott was called to a high pri- ority job in Birkenhead for a elderly woman who had col- lapsed. Paramedics Angela Parry and Ingrid Shaw were already on the scene when Mr Scott arrived and they assisted resthome resident Genevieve Bower, who had trouble breathing. We go to more medical jobs than trauma,'' Mr Scott says. We get a lot of people with breathing problems.'' St John Week runs until June 26. See www.stjohn. org.nz for more information. Go to www.eastern courier.co.nz to view a slideshow which provides an insight into the work of St John.
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