The Next Generation
I found out at the end of my last shift that starting next week, I’ll be training up a new call handler. That means taking someone coming into the control room for the first time, someone taking on something that’s not quite like any other job, and building them up from almost scratch to be a fully-fledged call handler. And thinking about that on my way home, my overriding thought was not trepidation or nervousness or even pride — it was simply of what a privilege that is.
When I was still in training and going over the forward progression for call handlers, we went over this moment — how one day, the positions would be swapped and I’d be the one in the trainer’s seat, passing on our skills. That’s been a bit of a goal for me since, and I think I’m rightly proud of myself having reached it so early.
Walking into the control room for the first time is both a moment I’ll never forget, and one that’s hard to describe. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to recreate. It’s a room and a building that have since become a second home, with a second family, but walking in for the first time can be overwhelming.
I work at one of our satellite sites, not at our HQ, so I walked up to a relatively small, unassuming building with very little to tell what it is other than a couple of service vehicles parked outside. I started on a different rota to most people, which the training team hadn’t picked up on, so there was nobody there to meet me — so I persuaded someone to let me in and take me to the right people.
Walking into the room is like walking into another world: outside is normality, inside there’s a whole new side to the city where we see everything. I don’t know why, looking back, but I had the impression that an emergency control room would be loud, busy, and fast-paced, where in reality it was the opposite. I walked in past banks of screens and equipment and communications gear and heard snippets of people talking to crews, to patients, to colleagues. Calm. Assured. Confident.
A Blank Slate
People are surprised when I tell them how short our training is. New call handlers get 3 weeks basic training on basic life support skills, our triage system, and our CAD system. (It’s usually 5 weeks, but… Covid.) That teaches them how to use our systems and gives them a small amount of practice taking scenario calls. It doesn’t teach them how to take a live emergency call; that’s done on the job, in the room. Teaching them that is my job.
My trainee, when they arrive next week, will be the proverbial blank slate — proficient in the use of our computer systems, but a complete novice to emergency call handling. It’s something that’s not quite like any other job out there: the combination of the situations we deal with and the simultaneous proficiency and calmness required of us is unique to the emergency services. It’ll be my job first to show, then to guide my trainee in building those skills, that ability to bring order to chaos and, ultimately, to tell someone how to save a life.
Passing the Torch
I’ve built a bit of a reputation for myself as being the go-to person who knows about the nuances and details of our triage system: what to do in what scenario. Ultimately, that stems from the person who trained me teaching me how to use those details and nuances. Every rule and instruction in the system is there for a reason, and it’s designed to be applied logically and step-by-step. It seems chaotic when you first start using it, but once my trainer pointed out how to make that logic work for me, I picked it up and ran with it.
Now, it’s my turn to pass that baton on. The challenge of training is to equip your trainee, in 10 shifts, with as much of the knowledge that they’ll need to handle calls as you can. You can never capture all of it, though, so the more important job is to teach your trainee how to work it out when they don’t have the knowledge. Sure, you could ask someone around you, or a supervisor, or you could have a careful read of the triage rules and apply them, and use that to come up with the answer. That’s the most valuable thing my trainer gave me; I fully intend to pass it down.