High-tech, high pressure


In this taster for the next issue of the BAPCO Journal, Philip Mason speaks to West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedic Rob Moore about the organisation’s use of technology to save lives.

Could you tell me a little bit about your role as part of West Midlands Ambulance Service?

I’m a paramedic first and foremost, so most of my time is spent in ambulances, responding to emergency calls through both 999 and 111. I also undertake shifts as the acting operations manager, based at our hub in Erdington. In that role, I provide first-line management – around sickness issues, absences and so on – as well as scene management of complex incidents. I also have additional responsibilities as a clinical team mentor.

Erdington is in north-east Birmingham, covering anywhere from Sutton Coldfield down to Solihull. It’s almost like a ‘J’ shape around the eastern side of the city. Having said that, we can find ourselves anywhere in the West Midlands. When you ring 999, they send you the nearest ambulance, so we can easily end up bunny-hopping between different calls.

How important is technology to the work that you carry out as a service? 

Technology is an increasingly vital part of what we do, and the way we use it has changed immeasurably since I first joined the service seven years ago. That’s both in terms of how we communicate with each other, as well as how we work with patients. 

In terms of communicating with each other by radio, we primarily use Airwave. At the point of dispatch, we’d usually be sat in the crew room, and the handset will beep to tell us that we’ve got a text message [via the TETRA data function]. Once we’re in the cab of the ambulance, we have a mobile data terminal [MDT] which displays the details of the case, including name, age, the nature of the incident and so on. That runs on something called Terrafix software. 

The other vital information relayed by the MDT involves anything which could affect the safety of the crew. That could include whether the patient’s got COVID-19 symptoms or whether someone on the scene has a history of acting violently towards ambulance crews. It also acts as a sat nav, automatically plotting the address of the incident for us. 

Under what circumstances would you use voice? 

Generally, we would use voice if we wanted to make absolutely sure that a message had been received. A good example of that is if there’s information around risk. Our dispatchers will always call us if that’s the case.  

The reason we dispatch primarily using data is it frees up the control room to do what they need to be doing, which is getting ambulances on the road. Regarding the text messages we receive on the Airwave handsets, they originate from the CAD system. The dispatchers can send us freehand messages as well, asking for an update, again without having to ring us. 

Do you use the Airwave data function for anything else? 

Not really. I know the control room could use it to track each handset, but that kind of thing generally tends to get carried out via the MDT. It’s far easier to spot a vehicle on the road than a handset moving around inside a two-storey house.

Read the rest of this article in the December edition of the BAPCO Journal. 

For the latest on the use of communications technology by the ambulance service, register your interest and join us at the BAPCO 2021 Online Event

Media contact

Philip Mason
Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 921