Unsung Heroes in Emergency Service Control Rooms

By Barry Zielinski, Operations and Services Director, Telent and Judge at the APD Control Room Awards

Earlier this month, the annual APD Control Room Awards were held to recognise the incredible work which control room staff play for emergency services teams across the United Kingdom. These individuals work tirelessly to keep the public safe and protected 24/7, 365 days a year. Not only does their decision-making help save lives but they form the foundation of the emergency services, providing the essential support which allows those on the frontline to operate.

As a platinum sponsor of the awards, Telent is proud to be associated with this wonderful initiative which honours and celebrates the courageous actions of highly skilled and dedicated control room individuals whose selfless actions don’t always get the recognition they deserve.

Behind the blue lights

Having worked in the emergency services sector for over 18 years, I wanted to reflect on the amazing work which takes place behind the blue lights. This work is fundamental in allowing emergency services teams to carry out their hands-on tasks as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. Whilst it is important to praise the work of our frontline Police, Fire and Ambulance crews, the APD awards herald those who often fly under the radar and escape the national headlines.

Not only do the awards highlight the fantastic work which these unsung heroes tirelessly undertake, but it shows the continued efforts they take to go above and beyond the call of duty. Impressively, many help and support colleagues, many work as first responders in the community as well as, take part in valuable fundraising efforts. The work ethos and professionalism of all those nominated and shortlisted is unparalleled and we would like to praise all those involved.

Given the current circumstances with Coronavirus across the United Kingdom and worldwide, a growing emphasis has been placed on ensuring the public across the UK remain safe and healthy in the weeks and months ahead. With uncertainty looming, we know just how important the roles of control room staff will play in keeping the public informed and safe.

Worthy winners

Each nomination was inspirational and uplifting, and with over 380 nominations to work through from more than 80 different emergency services organisations, it was an incredibly hard challenge for all of us on the judging panel to select the eventual winners. The awards truly highlight the brave and dedicated efforts of those involved and help recognise and honour the lifesaving, behind-the-scenes work of an array of unsung heroes.

Working in a control room is a demanding, high-pressure and life critical role with the next call or incident potentially being a life-changing one. Therefore a “normal day at the office” in a control room environment can mean something very different compared to the normal day-to-day role in an office.

One constant which shone through time and time again within the nominations was the professionalism and expertise in what is regarded as the norm for control room staff, whilst seamlessly looking for opportunities to improve processes, efficiency, and performance. Control room staff continue to train, develop and mentor new recruits and experienced colleagues alike to ensure they remain at the top of their game. In addition, the nominees found the time to support community initiatives and fundraising for good causes, as well as always going the extra mile to constantly improve the service delivered to the public.

There are countless occasions when off duty nominees have bravely and selflessly helped at accidents and incidents, using their dedication and professionalism from the control room to help members of the public, often putting themselves at potential risk.

Devon and Cornwall Police – a customer of Telent’s - saw its very own Rich Weaver presented with ‘The John Gilhooly Unsung Hero Award’ which recognised his strong leadership and continuous efforts to support his team. The winners included individuals who demonstrated bravery in rescuing people in the face of imminent danger, who demonstrated selfless actions to liaise with people in times of crisis and allow officers to swiftly intervene, officers who helped handle a distressing incident with the upmost professionalism and an individual whose quick-thinking and heroic actions helped save a life.

To learn more about the APD Control Room Awards, please visit: https://www.controlroomawards.com/.

Control Room Call Taker of the Year

Winner: Helen Collier, Avon and Somerset Police

The judges said:

“Helen shows great empathy with members of the public, particularly the young and vulnerable, and goes above and beyond in dealing with difficult situations inside and outside the control room and looking after the public.

“Her handling of a distressing incident in which caller was intent on taking her own life was remarkable and prevented a tragic end to the episode.”

Control Room Dispatcher of the Year

Winner: Carmel Sharkey, National Ambulance Service of Ireland

The judges said:

“Carmel is admired by her colleagues for her professionalism, care and compassion for the public. This was shown in how she ensured the distressed mother of a missing son didn’t fall through the cracks and received the assistance she desperately needed.

“Carmel went the extra mile in working across national borders to help the woman. As so often with the control room community, she saw the person, rather than the incident, and responded accordingly.”

Leader of the Year

Winner: Carly Pointon, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service

The judges said:

“Carly is a worthy winner, in recognition of her highly effective leadership of the successful merger of two fire service control rooms into one, thereby delivering significant value to the public.

“Managing a consolidation such as this is an incredibly difficult job, involving significant changes affecting people, processes and systems, while maintaining service to the public. Carly’s performance was truly outstanding.”

The Award for Services to the Public

Winner: Paula Holden, Merseyside Police

The judges said:

“Paula truly embodies the spirit of public service with her totally selfless commitment to voluntary and charity work over many years

“She supports numerous worthy causes in her local community in so many ways. Paula inspires people inside and outside the workplace and her work to raise the profile of the control room is also a great credit to her.”

Special Recognition Award for Bravery and Courage

Winner: Martin Lonsdale, North East Ambulance Service

The judges said:

“Martin is our hero and a true lifesaver. Despite having no frontline training, Martin didn’t hesitate to act when he came across an overturned car on his way to work. His immediate instinct was to help the occupants.

“Martin was not deterred even when the car burst into flames, pulling three people from the burning vehicle under the most dangerous circumstances. Those people owe their lives to him. He put his own life at risk to save theirs.”

Team of the Year

Winner: South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Control Team

The judges said:

“The South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Control Team was at the very heart of the emergency services response to awful flooding which inundated hundreds of homes.

“Their professionalism, skill, resolve and resilience was vital in ensuring everything possible was done to help, support, reassure and care for thousands of callers and other people affected by the emergency. The team’s work demonstrated the debt of gratitude the public owes to control room teams in their times of utmost need.

Young Achiever of the Year

Winner: Hannah Bird, Maritime and Coastguard Agency

The judges said:

“Hannah is an outstanding young leader. She is relatively new in her role, but has rapidly developed maritime skills to become a vital member of the team.

“She has shown huge commitment to her personal development and qualifications and frequently takes responsibility above and beyond her job role, including managing major incidents. Hannah is a fantastic leader for the future.”

The Community Champion Award

Winner: Jo Sampson, Avon and Somerset Police

The judges said:

“Jo is passionate about supporting the community and takes great pride in helping others. She runs or contributes to many good causes as well as supporting work colleagues in their time of need.

“Jo works tirelessly for the community, both inside and outside of work time. She is an amazingly dedicated, all-round community champion.”

John Gilhooly Unsung Hero Award

Winner: Rich Weaver, Devon and Cornwall Police

The judges said:

“The comments from colleagues demonstrate how they feel about Rich and his support for team members and their personal development. He is always there for them, not least in times of need.

“Despite facing very significant personal challenges, Rich has continued to support the control room team, inside and outside work. Rich is utterly devoted to his team and to the public they serve.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Lorraine Smith, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue

The judges said:

“Lorraine has made an outstanding and lasting contribution for 20 years. She has led on a series of major incidents and significant projects, including an upgrade of the command and control system, which was delivered to specification, on time and to budget.

“As well as all this, she has overcome breast cancer, fosters children and mentors other foster carers, and helps out in an adult education centre. She has personally raised more than £20,000 for charities.”

Control Room Ambassador of the Year

Winner: Ashleigh Spriggs, Leicestershire Fire and Rescue

The judges said:

“Ashleigh is passionate about the control room and the work the control room team do to help and support the public. He is also committed to raising the profile of the control room externally, including by working with emergency services partners.

“He is worthy of recognition as Ambassador of the Year for the work he does in highlighting the importance of the control room in emergency response and championing the team’s work.

“He was also the duty watch officer during the Leicester City helicopter disaster, receiving commendations from the fire service and football club following the tragic event.”

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