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‘Pull yourself together,’ Tara Costigan’s sister told

By Charlotte Harper - 20 July 2016 10

Tara Costigan

“Yep you need to pull yourself together and help your sister.” These were among the words spoken by the Triple Zero Ambulance operator to Rikki Schmidt, the sister of Canberra mother Tara Costigan when she called the emergency line as Ms Costigan lay dying after her former partner, Marcus Rappel, had struck her with an axe.

Without confirming that an ambulance was on the way, and after learning from Ms Schmidt that Ms Costigan had been hit in the neck with an axe, the operator asked the distressed Ms Schmidt a series of questions including: “How did it happen?”, “What injuries does she have?”, “Can you describe it [the neck wound] in more detail, please?”

The telephone call was recorded and played in court and on the ABC news last night (full transcript below). While Rappel has pleaded guilty to the murder, he was back in court yesterday because he is disputing aspects of the prosecution’s case.

Ms Schmidt and other members of the Costigan family discussed the events of that terrible afternoon on ABC 7.30 last night.

RiotACT contacted the Emergency Services Agency and Minister for Emergency Services Simon Corbell to ask them about the telephone call and its aftermath, the protocols operators are required to use in dealing with calls and the training they receive.

The ESA told ABC radio this morning: “Out of respect to the Costigan family and the ongoing court case it would not be appropriate to discuss further”.

Mr Corbell responded with the following statement:

“The ACT Ambulance Service responds to approximately 37,000 “000” telephone calls each year and all calls are taken very seriously.

The ACT Ambulance Service begins the dispatch process almost immediately while keeping the caller on the line to answer questions about the emergency.

Call-takers must ask a series of questions to establish the most appropriate response, and answers to these questions enable the call-taker to provide more detailed pre-arrival advice to the dispatched intensive care paramedics.

The common misconception is that the person taking the call also dispatches the ambulance and coordinates other resources. This is not the case. While the call taker continues to ask questions a dispatcher can see the case and dispatch the closest available ambulance.

While the call taker continues gathering information and the dispatcher is sending an ambulance, other staff in the communications centre are coordinating with and contacting other agencies including ACT Fire & Rescue and ACT Policing.

The ACT Ambulance Service provides a valuable service to the community, and 97% of “000” calls are answered within 10 seconds. The ACT Ambulance Service also has the fastest response times in Australia.”

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF CALL

After Ms Schmidt was transferred to Ambulance emergency, the operator initially asked: “What address?”

Ms Schmidt responded: “38 of 12 Duggan Street. My sister has been hit in the neck with an axe.”

The call continued:

Operator: “I need your phone number.”

Ms Schmidt: “I don’t have time, my sister’s been hit in the neck with an axe!”

Operator: “How did it happen?”

Ms Schmidt: “Oh, just, can you please hurry up! My sister’s been …”

Operator: “We are hurrying. This is all part of the process that everyone has to go through when they call us. Can you please explain to me how it happened.”

Ms Schmidt: “My sister’s ex-boyfriend [inaudible] came with an axe.”

Operator: “What injuries does she have?”

Ms Schmidt: “She’s got a massive wound on her neck.”

Operator: “OK can you describe it in more detail, please?”

Ms Schmidt: “No, I don’t. She’s hardly breathing. Hurry up!”

Operator: “Yep you need to pull yourself together and help your sister.”

Ms Schmidt: “[Inaudible] … But why did he do this?”

Tara Costigan was dead before the ambulance arrived.

If you are concerned about your own or another family being at risk of domestic violence, please contact the National Family Violence counselling service on 1800 737 732.

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10 Responses to
‘Pull yourself together,’ Tara Costigan’s sister told
SteveAllen 9:18 pm 15 Aug 16

First of all I feel for the civilian call taker who took the call. He was only doing what he was trained to do and that is to follow the script. If he was a highly trained experienced paramedic, common sense would have kicked in and a lot of those questions would not have been asked because it was pretty obvious what he was dealing with.

And what is scary about all this, the tragedy aside, our Minister for Emergency Services Simon Corbell and the current ESA Commissioner Dominic Lane, think that this is an acceptable standard. So much so, they announced in late June that they are planning on taking highly trained and experienced career Firefighters out of the Command centre and replacing them with script reading civilians.

This is the article from the Canberra Times on 28th June 2016;

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/union-lashes-plan-to-remove-firefighters-from-acts-emergency-call-centre-20160628-gptnqi.html

John Moulis 10:51 am 22 Jul 16

miz said :

bringontheevidence said :

Some of these 000 operators need to be more empathetic and sensitive when dealing with callers. In 1999 my father died in the toilet of our house and my mother came home and found him. I phoned 000 and was calmly giving the details to the ambulance operator. My mother was almost hysterical and yelled to me to tell them to hurry up. I said “And could you please hurry?”. The operator then launched into an extraordinary rebuke and castigated me severely for saying that. I’ve seen several reports over the years about insensitive behaviour by 000 operators so perhaps there should be regular training in how better to deal with stressful situations and agitated callers.

What was the rush?

We didn’t know he was dead at the time, my mother thought he could be revived and that a delay could be fatal or injurious. While I personally was happy that the man who was constantly drunk and bashing us all the time was finally gone, my mother thought it was her wifely duty as a Greek spouse to get help as soon as possible. Looking back I now realise that I should have ignored her plea when I was on the phone and continued to deal calmly with the 000 operator, but we had never had a death in the family before and it was very much unchartered territory as to seeking help and dealing with 000.

HenryBG 11:35 pm 21 Jul 16

bringontheevidence said :

Some of these 000 operators need to be more empathetic and sensitive when dealing with callers. In 1999 my father died in the toilet of our house and my mother came home and found him. I phoned 000 and was calmly giving the details to the ambulance operator. My mother was almost hysterical and yelled to me to tell them to hurry up. I said “And could you please hurry?”. The operator then launched into an extraordinary rebuke and castigated me severely for saying that. I’ve seen several reports over the years about insensitive behaviour by 000 operators so perhaps there should be regular training in how better to deal with stressful situations and agitated callers.

What was the rush?

wottaway 6:02 pm 21 Jul 16

Thirty years ago when I rang ‘000’ in NSW,after coming upon a baseball bat bashing,this was their response…’well,you ring the police and I’ll ring the ambulance’.

Mysteryman 10:41 am 21 Jul 16

justin heywood said :

Most empathetic people shouldn’t handle 000 calls. Do you want them to help our make you feel better?

This x 100.

funbutalsoserious 9:15 am 21 Jul 16

They should be reassuring of the caller. I recently had an experience where I had to call 000 to get an ambulance for my little boy who had fallen over badly. I could not believe how many times I was asked my address or my phone number. Like did they not have call number display? A good example of what not to do should be the Lindt Cafe siege. The audio file is available online freely and here is a rough picture of what occurred: https://au.news.yahoo.com/nsw/a/31151195/lindt-cafe-manager-told-to-hang-on-as-police-dispatcher-didnt-know-where-martin-place-was-during-000-call/#page1

drfelonious 9:33 pm 20 Jul 16

I feel for the 000 operator. It is hard to think of a more thankless job.

They are trained to ask a series of questions – no matter what. Their heart rates can go from normal to extreme spikes in no time at all so the training is supposed to kick in. It must be an extremely stressful job and it would be so hard to decompress each day.

gooterz 5:51 pm 20 Jul 16

Most empathetic people shouldn’t handle 000 calls. Do you want them to help our make you feel better?

John Moulis 4:57 pm 20 Jul 16

Some of these 000 operators need to be more empathetic and sensitive when dealing with callers. In 1999 my father died in the toilet of our house and my mother came home and found him. I phoned 000 and was calmly giving the details to the ambulance operator. My mother was almost hysterical and yelled to me to tell them to hurry up. I said “And could you please hurry?”. The operator then launched into an extraordinary rebuke and castigated me severely for saying that. I’ve seen several reports over the years about insensitive behaviour by 000 operators so perhaps there should be regular training in how better to deal with stressful situations and agitated callers.

Kim F 2:00 pm 20 Jul 16

I heard that on the news and was gobsmacked! The Operator was obviously was incapable of deviating from the script. SO sad in every respect.

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