My first PTS job was to pick up a patient from the Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) in Mt Eden. We received the job over the RT from a dispatcher by the name of Ray.
Ray had served many years with the ambulance service and was a real legend amongst the troops. He was once awarded a medal for bravery when he risked his life to get to a shot policeman during an armed offender callout. That was in the days before there was a Police SWAT team . He had seen it all and had the foresight to finish his time off in the service sitting in a cushy chair in the control room.
This old timer still had an extremely sharp mind and knew where all the ambulances were at any one time without having to use the computer. Not an easy task when you are juggling forty or more vehicles all over city.
Our induction training didnt include being shown where any of the clinical departments were located around the city, so when we got the job we had to search through the map books and then a phone book to find our way there. We didnt want to sound ignorant over the radio asking for directions or the clinic location and he certainly wasnt offering any. Eventually we got there and completed the transfer.
As New Zealand largest, Auckland City can be very daunting to most people visiting or even living there, yet we were expected to just know our way around all of it. It was a sharp learning curve for new recruits, especially for people like myself who had lived outside of Auckland. It wasnt uncommon for new staff to get completely lost or end up going the wrong way.
Our jobs were dispatched over the radio as either Code 1 (non urgent) or Code 2 (urgent) the later meaning you could respond under lights and siren. Code 2 jobs provided the high profile adrenaline rush we always hoped for but the majority of the work was code 1.
Navigating your way through city traffic and going against red traffic lights was dangerous stuff but also a lot of fun. I clearly remember my first ever Code two job.
I was at the old Pitt St ambulance station having my lunch break. By now I was single crewed and the other vehicles were all out on jobs. Suddenly the station alarm sounded indicating there was a code two job. I was confused at first, as I was the only vehicle on station and thought the job couldn’t possibly be for me, a PTS vehicle. I answered the beeping radio-telephone (RT) in my vehicle (which indicated the control room had paged me) and was given the job over the air.
"A-11 your time out is 1228, code 2 to an R3 (aircraft crash alert) at Auckland International Airport, George Bolt Drive Drive, Mangere, job number 56"
I was one of a number of vehicles to respond to an International flight that was landing with a problem. I was so excited about the job I let out a yelp of excitement and quickly looked up the best way to get there.
I knew I could go via the motorway and exit at Mt Wellington then go through Otahuhu and Mangere. I didn’t know if this was the quickest way but it was the only route I knew without having to refer to the map book so I figured it was the safest bet.
I started the vehicle up and selected drive on the automatic transmission. Headlights switched on full beam. Beacons on. Siren on. I accelerated the Bedford Ambulance out of the station and into the throng of Pitt street traffic.
My heart was racing as I manoeuvred the high profile vehicle through the stationery cars up Pitt St and left onto an even busier Karangahape Road, then onto the motorway. Siren whaling, air horn blaring, traffic pulling over. It was a mixture of elation and panic but I loved every moment.
In those days the traffic police department was separate from the regular Police force and run by the Ministry of Transport (M.O.T). As I exited the Motorway at Mt Wellington and approached Mangere Rd I was astounded to see a Traffic officer at each intersection holding up the traffic and waving me through. It made me feel awfully important. I never experienced this VIP treatment by the MOT during an R3 again so it was quite a novelty.
Turning into George Bolt Memorial drive I was suddenly called up by the control room. Apparently the plane had landed safely and I was to stand down and head for the Matai Rd station to complete my lunch break. Although not getting to the airport was a letdown I was still beaming from my first code 2 for the rest of the day.