At the end of my apprenticeship an advert appeared in the NZ Herald for Patient Transport Officers (PTO’s)with the Auckland Ambulance Service. This job involved driving a single crewed ambulance, picking up and delivering the non-urgent and routine clinic patients from their homes to hospitals or delivering patients between hospitals.
I applied for the position and was asked to attend an interview with the Personnel manager and a Senior Operations Officer (SOO). They asked the routine questions - why I wanted to join, what I had to offer, how would I deal with shift work etc. I bluffed my way through as best I could.
I also had to attend a medical examination with the GP who was associated with the service at the time. This was the most thorough examination I had ever had but I was fit so didnt worry about it.
I passed the thorough medical and to my overwhelming joy was successful in being one of the few ‘chosen ones’ that were taken from the hundreds of applicants.
After resigning from my position at NZ Steel I turned up for work on my first day which was to be a very exciting and challenging new career.
I can still clearly picture my first day at the Auckland training centre. We had already been issued our uniforms which consisted of six white shirts, two ties, one pair of epaulettes, one jersey, two pairs of trousers, one raincoat, one reflective jerkin, one pair of waterproof trousers and a pouch containing scissors, clamp and pupil torch. We also got given a personal first response kit in the form of a white metal toolbox, which was crammed full of first aid gear and was affectionately known as our 'buddie'.
Receiving all this brand new uniform and equipment was overwhelming because as a volunteer I had to beg or borrow used items to kit myself out properly. In comparison it felt like all my Christmas’s had come and once and I was buzzing on a high when I picked it all up.
It was a Monday morning and eleven recruits in their crisp new uniforms were sitting in the classroom elated to finally be paid to do a job of their dreams.
After our training officer Rob had introduced himself, we took turns at explaining who we were and where we had come from. There were nine of us employed as PTO’s and three employed as Communication officers for the Regional Communications centre (RCC).
Our backgrounds were varied and included people from all walks of life including a Payroll clerk, Police officer, Navy medic, funeral director, Courier driver, Lab technician and of course myself as a sparky.
My trade as a Sparky appealed to Rob who happened to require some house wiring so I immediately started on a good footing and got to know and respect him early on in the job.
The induction lasted two weeks and was a combination of re-doing the Basic Ambulance Aid course, learning about the dreaded paperwork and administrative procedures, familiarising ourselves with the ambulance vehicles and stretchers, some defensive driving skills and some time in the control room. We also spent two days on an emergency ambulance vehicle riding 3rd person up.
Most of the administration information I was taught went in one ear and out the other. The medical content however was of great interest to me and for once in my life I excelled at what was being taught.
I earned a name for myself by being the one who asked all the questions over and over until I understood what was being taught. This was a new thing for me as in school I was always too shy to ask anything.
In this instance however, I decided that people’s lives may literally depend on what I learnt, so I had better understand everything in order to do the job properly. My perseverance paid off and was reflected in my high grades that I achieved in the exams we had to sit.
Finally, after graduating we were thrust out onto the street to different stations as new rookies. PTO’s were a new concept in the service but we were certainly welcomed by the existing full time staff. Our job would be to carry out the not-so-exciting, non-urgent work of ferrying around patients all over Auckland. This freed the other ambulances up to attend mainly urgent jobs, which often involved racing to scenes with lights and siren. In effect they would be doing more of this at our expense so in hindsight it was no wonder they were pleased to see us.
For some reason there was a delay in the processing of my ambulance ‘E’ drivers license which in those days was required to be able to drive an ambulance. For this reason I was double crewed with Gary, another recruit, during my first few days. This was actually quite advantageous to us as it meant we could load stretcher patients easier and had a lot more fun getting lost together.