back to top

25 Secrets Ambulance Dispatchers Will Never, Ever Tell You

"I need an ambulance." "Why?" "There's a toilet roll holder in my butt."

Posted on

2. Our best calls are the ones where we help someone bring a baby into the world.

Twitter: @AmbulanceNB_en

We call these sort of calls "BBA": born before arrival, and it involves talking someone, usually the father, through the process of delivering the baby. You never forget the parents you help, or the joy of hearing a baby’s first cry.

3. And our worst calls are the ones where a baby or child has stopped breathing.

Yes, we're trained to seem cool and collected, but our heart is always racing while explaining to panicked parents how to do CPR on their own kid. Thankfully, many of these calls have good outcomes, but some don't, and that's very hard.

4. People do die while they're on the phone to us, and it never gets any easier to deal with. / Creative Commons

You just have to stay calm, try not to agonise about the situation afterwards, or spend hours turning it over in your head and asking yourself whether you could have done something differently and saved the person's life. It won't help.

5. Calls from suicidal people are difficult too. / Creative Commons

We get a lot of calls from people who say they want to end their life and don't feel like they have anywhere else to turn. All we can do is keep them on the phone, comfort them, find out where they are, and send the police and an ambulance.

6. We get sworn at and verbally threatened a lot.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

We understand that people are often experiencing traumatic stuff, but please remember we're here to help. The sweariest, nastiest calls tend to come from drunk people, and these make up the majority of weekend shifts. It's not OK.

7. We get incredibly weird calls all the time.

Like people who say they've been attacked by aliens, people with their hands, heads, and legs stuck in railings. And, of course, people who've "fallen off lions".

8. Not to mention annoying, time-wasting calls. / Creative Commons

Like: "Help, there's a fox in my garden," or "My goldfish is drowning." It’s ridiculous that people think 999 is suitable for this. We try to get these sort of callers off the phone as quickly as possible as they're blocking life-threatening emergencies.

9. And, of course, calls from embarrassed people with weird things stuck up their bums.

These people are often drunk and super embarrassed. It can be hard to coax out the details about what's wrong, but once you finally get them to admit they've got a loo roll holder or an aubergine stuck up their bum, you can get them some help.

10. We cry way more often than you'd think.

Twitter: @RapidSOS

Never while we're on the phone (unless you count silent tears), but we certainly aren't robots, and some calls can hit a nerve. For instance, if you've just had a baby and someone calls with a seriously ill child that you struggle to save.

11. You don't need a university degree or healthcare background to be an EMD.

We actually only get around four to six weeks of training in first aid and relevant computer programs, and also one-to-one support for our first 10 shifts.

12. We spend a shift with a group of paramedics in an ambulance as part of our training.

This is pretty fun, but you have to hope you're not assigned a weekend night as it'll just be wall-to-wall aggressive drunks. It's also quite tricky if you're squeamish, as you'll be expected to be a full member of the team and help dress wounds.

13. And we learn CPR as well.

Instagram: @qldambulance

After all, we'll spend a lot of our time telling panicked people how to perform CPR over the phone. It's always an awesome feeling when you walk someone through CPR and the patient lives – it can make a shitty day much better.

14. Our computer system does quite a lot of the complicated medical work for us.

Twitter: @LAS_TacAdvisor

We're not clinicians, so the system helps us by automatically dispatching an ambulance as soon as an address is typed in, deciding which symptoms are the most critical, and assigning the call one of four levels of urgency. It's pretty handy.

15. But no computer and no amount of training can prepare you for the stress of taking your first call.

Twitter: @Dunne4Ludlow

It's genuinely nerve-racking. You do eventually get to grips with the most regular types of call (choking is a very common issue), but even after several years, some unusual calls and symptoms can throw you into the unknown.

16. One of the biggest challenges we face is finding out where people are, and what's happened.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Sometimes just getting an address takes several minutes, especially if the caller is drunk or on drugs, which is often the case at weekends. People often assume we know where they are, and hang up. We're not psychic; we need information.

17. People expect ambulances to arrive instantaneously, like they do on TV.

Instagram: @offroadlifestyleusa

Unfortunately ambulances can't drive over the traffic. People also don't like to answer questions, but we need to know more so that we can decide who gets an ambulance first (or at all). A heart attack is more of a priority than a hangover or cut finger, so be nice and answer questions.

18. We don't get paid very much.

Especially when you consider the types of traumatic calls and situations we have to deal with on a daily basis. The UK salary scale is around £23,861 to £27,569.

19. Our long shifts are pretty disorientating.

We usually do around four 12-hour shifts (often overnight), followed by three days off. Getting home from work when everyone else is still in bed can be really confusing, especially if you've had a difficult day and need someone to talk to.

20. Which means we're not always available, and our friends struggle to get to grips with that.

Guys, we know you like us, but we can't always make it to your party. Also, for the love of god please stop calling us before 4pm if you know we're on nights.

21. We miss lots of important family occasions as well.

We can sometimes swap shifts, but it's not exactly easy to find someone who's willing to cover Christmas Day or New Year for you, especially as the festive season is our busiest time of the year (booze + ice = lots of accidents).

22. We barely get any time to talk to our colleagues.

Sure, you can try to chat, but you only manage to say half a sentence before you hear a bleep and the next call arrives. Even when you're chatting after a shift, you're hesitant because you think you can hear the ghost of a bleep in your ear.

23. A lot of us go on to become ambulance technicians or paramedics.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Depending on how easily grossed out you are, of course. If you can deal with blood and other bodily fluids, it's really rewarding. But a lot of us prefer to stay at the end of the phone and deal with things remotely. It's a lot cleaner, for a start.

24. Calls from kids can be difficult, but they're also an opportunity to make a huge difference.

Twitter: @AdaCoSheriff

It's not unheard of for kids as young as 3 to call us to let us know their parent is sick or unresponsive. In fact, kids are often the best callers as they always do exactly what you say without questioning you. If everything goes well, they often come in to visit us afterwards, and it's always wonderful when they do.

25. So please, guys, stop saying things like: "Urgh I couldn't do your job. It must be horrible."

Twitter: @MumsnetJobs

It really isn't. We enjoy our jobs, we're proud of what we do, we love helping people in their time of need, and we wouldn’t change it for the world. After all, who wouldn't want to be part of a team that saves hundreds of lives every day?

We'd appreciate it if you could stop swearing at us, though. Cheers.

This post was put together with help from a member of the Scottish Ambulance Service, and information provided by the London Ambulance Service.