Since becoming a NSW Ambulance emergency medical call taker, Sarah Smith has shared two special moments with Garth Andrews, his partner Tanya and their newborn bub, Mia.
The second of those occasions occurred this month – but we will come back to that, because it was the first of these interactions, on 28 June, when their lifelong bond was established.
And it began under the most unexpected of circumstances.
Several hours before crossing paths with the family, Sarah Smith had already celebrated a significant achievement on 28 June. She had completed her training hours (where she was overseen by a preceptor) and assessments, had received her epaulettes and was now qualified to work as an independent call taker at Northern Control Centre.
Then, in just her third-ever job as an independent call taker, the phone lit up and it was Garth on the other end of the line.
Tanya had gone into labour – at exactly 40 weeks – and was set to give birth on the couple’s lounge room floor after realising they weren’t go to make the drive to the hospital in time.
Leading up to this point, Tanya had been in and out of hospital for two weeks with false contractions.
Still, little Mia hadn’t arrived…until now.
“Having had two kids myself, all I could think of is, ‘I know where this woman is right now’,” Sarah said.
“When I got the call I was just fixated on the screen. Other staff members around me heard Tanya was 40 weeks pregnant and were soon crowding around me. I knew I just had to follow the script and be calm.
“Thankfully Garth was incredibly calm and compliant.”
Despite the high-pressured circumstances, Sarah showed a level of maturity and composure years beyond her limited experience to walk Garth through the delivery, before paramedics arrived to take over.
“I can’t describe the feeling I got when I heard those first cries from baby Mia,” Sarah said.
“It was a very special moment, with a lot of relief and happiness.
“Everyone is so supportive at Northern Control Centre, and it was nice to have so many of them around me at the time – including both the trainer who signed off on me and my team leader.”
Garth, of Forresters Beach, said he was forever grateful to Sarah for her guidance and demeanour during the birth, which lasted 17 minutes.
“Her instructions were simple and concise without confusing me, and her calmness in turn made me more calm,” he said.
“I learnt later that she wasn’t that experienced, but I wouldn’t have thought that at the time. I hope the experience was good for her self-esteem… call takers deserve so much recognition for what they do.”
This month, nearly three months on from the birth of baby Mia, the family got the rare opportunity to meet Sarah in person for the first time.
“Having the chance to meet Sarah was everything we could possibly hope for,” Tanya said.
“Mia is teething at the moment so she is a bit grumpy with most people, but I passed her to Sarah to hold because she helped bring her into this world…
all of a sudden when I did this, Mia had this big smile on her face, it was amazing.
“I remember when we got home from the hospital after Mia’s birth and all we could think of was Sarah.
Garth kept saying he couldn’t have done it without her.”
A/Associate Director Control Centres Sharne Hall said it would have been completely understandable if Sarah required assistance during the call, given how new she was to the job.
But Sharne said the fact Sarah didn’t require assistance spoke volumes about her.
“I’m extremely proud,” Sharne said. “From the word go we saw her as somebody who would be a competent and confident call taker. She has a lovely demeanour about her, she is kind-hearted and that shows through in the job she does.”
A strong support system
Sharne said Northern Control had worked particularly hard in recent years to further foster a culture of support for incoming staff members.
“We are really lucky to have a bunch of great call takers who understand what it’s like to go through jobs like this, which Sarah did so early in her career,” she said.
“A lot of staff are willing to precept their trainees.
“When staff are signed off we do a little presentation in the room where we give them their epaulettes and myself or a Zone Manager talk about how proud they should be, because it’s certainly not a role everybody can do.”
Northern Control Centre’s A/Communications Educator, Kevin Griffiths, said it is rewarding and reassuring to see an inexperienced call-taker like Sarah handle herself as well as she did.
He said it reinforces how strong the call taker education pathway – which begins with five weeks training in Gladesville and culminates in 342 hours of formal training at Control – is within NSW Ambulance.
“They’re really well supported beyond that at Northern Control Centre too,” he said.
“The call takers really bond and form a really good support network; and the recent introduction of a call taker team leader role at Northern Control has also been a huge benefit for management and staff, so far as the support they can give. Then there are also the SOCOs (Senior Control Centre Officers), DOCOs (Duty Control Centre Officers), Peer Support Officers, and psychologists too.
“Even though it can be a stressful job, we work in a really rewarding environment.”