Wednesday, February 11, 2009

During this horror of the Victorian Fires

We are all aware by now of the devastating bushfires in Victoria Australia, so many have been effected and I came accross an anonymos email that I would like to share.

Hello everyone,
During this horror of the Victorian Fires, I'm just wondering if everyone can include call centre agents/telephone operators in their prayers, please? During my shift today, every agent handled calls from distraught people searching desperately for loved ones, friends and employees. Some callers had already lost folk and were now frantically looking for others. For many callers, we were the only number that would answer.

Our training doesn't cover how to handle grief stricken people, many sobbing, and our agents were affected deeply by stories they heard first-hand. Naturally, the emergency services of police, ambulance, fire brigades, hospitals, OOO, SES and Red Cross hot-lines were totally overwhelmed with callers and many people had been trying for hours to ring but had been unable to get through. They then turned to us, at 1234, as they knew they would be answered by a human who they could talk to and hopefully get some answers from.

One agent received a call from a woman saying she was in a house surrounded by fire, with no way out and what should she do? Whilst the agent was talking with her, the line went dead. That agent will forever be wondering what happened to that poor woman, as we all will. I took a call from a woman who's daughter, who lived at Kinglake, had sent her a text message, late yesterday, saying, "The house is going" followed shortly by another that simply said, "Pray for me".

She had been unable to contact her daughter, or heard from her, since. I had another call from a young man, who was holidaying in NSW but lived at Maryville, and was trying to be brave and not sound too concerned that he was unable to raise anyone at home or his boss. He kept trying to convince himself that his boss would answer his mobile phone later as the boss never went anywhere without his phone.

He just couldn't accept that, maybe, some of those he was calling would never answer the phone again. He wouldn't take any number to call but, in the end, he let me sms some hotline numbers through to his mobile, which he could ring later, when he was more able to cope with the reality of the situation. We were being asked for directions from people trying to get away from the area, but were being confronted by blocked roads and wanting to know which road to take to get around it.

We had no idea which roads were blocked, or even where the fires were actually burning, so could ony hope and pray we were sending them on a safe path and not straight at one of the fire zones. I had a young girl, who decided she had to go home to Kinglake, just to make sure her family and everything were alright.

I gave her the directions and tried to convince her to stay in Melbourne, but she was determined she had to see for herself. I can only hope she was turned around at a roadblock and never entered the danger zone. We had calls from people, frantically trying to access water from their tanks but were unable to, as the powerlines had gone and their pumps wouldn't work. So many are so unprepared.

We handled calls like these all day, knowing those coming on to replace us, would be confronted by the same, for their entire shift and most of us have to go back tomorrow to cope with it again. Many of our agents are young and, therefore, have very few life skills learnt from experience so have absolutely no idea how to cope with grief/distress, especially others'.
I guess, I'm a little more prepared than most, for this type of situation as I completed the Lifeline Telephone Counsellors Course in 2001 and worked 2 x 5 hour shifts a week for almost 2 years, on a volunteer basis, so I coped much better than most, and was able to give very limited assistance to other agents. That doesn't mean I'm not deeply affected by handling these calls. Many tears were shed in our centre today, mine among them, with many more to come.

Our stories are probably nothing compared to those heard by the emergency services but we're still here, coping as best we can, and will continue to be. We don't just take a call, then wander off for coffee. One call ends and the next drops in straight away, with it's own new challenges. I take an average of just over 400 calls per shift. On a day like today, when over 3/4 of our calls were regarding the fire zones, that is alot of others' grief and distress to cope with. Please keep us, the thousands of call centre agents and telephone operators, in your thoughts and prayers.

Such a sad day and as declared , it is the worst natural disaster in Australian history.

You can help by making a donation at the Red Cross Appeal .... Link Below....

Also there has been a Facebook Group created where you can join up and share your comments and feelings with your friends and give support to the Victims.

This is the link...

Thank You all so very much

Allen Sentance


Anonymous said...

Allen, thank you for sharing this post. We often don't stop to think about those people who have to deal with the devastation first hand. My heart goes out to all of the volunteers and victims. How can anyone not be deeply saddened by such a tragedy that was deliberately started. I shake my head in utter disbelief.

Surfer Jerry said...

Allen, thank you for sharing your story. I will keep all of you and the wonderful people of Australia in my prayers.

richardcolum said...

The hardest of times brings the most out of caring people it truly is wonderful to be a human being in these times even though it hurt search and every one of us.

VivBounty said...

Fisherman, I am so very saddened to hear about what's going on in your country. I will certainly keep all concerned in my prayers. This is just tragic. God bless all concerned.
Your friend, VivBounty