I’ve completed two weeks as an Allocator on the East Central! I’ve also managed not to fall out with any crews or colleagues or cause a significant drop in those all-important performance figures. I haven’t yet worked out which ambulance belongs to Mr Reynolds but I’m working on it. So I can tentatively consider myself a success in my new role. So far.
The hardest part so far is getting used to regularly working on a different sector. I was on the North East for three years and only worked other sectors on overtime or relief shifts, allocating with the help of someone who usually works that desk. I knew all the crews’ shift times off by heart and all the little idiosyncrasies of the sector, like the way Tottenham crews gravitate to Edmonton ambulance station and Whipps Cross 29 starts and finishes at Walthamstow for no apparent reason. I got to recognise some of the crews by voice (“Bonjour Romford” brightened many a shift – we took to sending messages down his MDT in French) and became quite fond of the regular callers – Jimmy the surprisingly nice throat slitting alcoholic, George Michaels the fit-prone alcoholic who frequently offers to marry me, Mrs Haddock who wants us to change the TV channel and make her a cup of tea… I miss them all, and when I see someone else sitting with my former deskmates in “my” chair it’s a bit like seeing your ex boyfriend out with a new girlfriend.
But the East Central is great, and I’m learning my way around it. The first thing I had to get my head around is the fact that all the ambulance stations are very close together, and while 5 miles is a perfectly acceptable distance to send a Romford (London/Essex borders) crew, you’ll be pushing it to send a Smithfield (central London, in the City/financial district) more than two. The roads are narrow and there is so much traffic that two miles can take 10 minutes, even on blue lights.
The other shock has been the contrast between night and day. During the day, the East Central is one of the busiest sectors. At night, it practically shuts down. This is because a large part of the sector is taken up with the City and Docklands, areas where a lot of people work, but not many people live. Those who do live in the East Central are mainly young, well off people, who are less likely to get ill in the first place and more likely to take taxis to hospital. The exception to this is the Newham/West Ham area, which generates a steady stream of pointless green calls throughout the night. By 2am, it is perfectly possible to run the entire sector with five ambulances, three of which are based at Newham. Of course, when you have a small number of ambulances and a small number of calls, it only takes one large incident – a car accident with multiple patients, for example – to throw the whole thing out of kilter and the only way to deal with this is to steal ambulances from the North East and the South East. I have become a master at eyelash fluttering and bargaining with other allocators. For example: “I have a really nice little old lady on the floor. She’s been waiting AAAGES! Can I have your Bloomsbury? If you give me your Bloomsbury, you can have my 6am Smithfield!”
I’m getting to know the crews too: the friendly green truck who really will go anywhere and do anything, the world’s most cheerful DSO (manager) and Barney, so called because he likes to have one. And where would we be without the regulars? There’s Harriet, who calls with chest pain but really wants us to tuck her into bed, Derek, the self harmer who wants us to call his mum, Adrian, the nasty lunatic just out of prison who “knows where we live” (we know where he lives too) and currently Horace Halfpenny is hanging around our sector and giving all the crews earache. His 50% burns are all but forgotten.
Another advantage of the East Central desk is that you have a really clear view of the control room TV, so I get to watch Takeshi’s Castle and World’s Most Amazing Videos every night.