The Hong Kong emergency responders helping to deliver babies over the phone
- New system of advice given while an ambulance is on the way has helped more than 110,000 people since October launch
“Hello? My wife is in labour at home – oh my God, I can see the baby’s head, what should I do now?”
This was the call 26-year-old Law Pak-yeung received merely two weeks into his job answering emergency reports; and one he would never forget.
It was morning of November 14 when Law got the report from a man whose wife was about to give birth at home. There was no time to get her to the hospital.
“I was freaking out a little bit at first because I didn’t have any experience of childbirth. But I told myself to keep calm, and took a deep breath as the father needed my help,” he recalled.
After sending an ambulance to the couple’s home, Law advised them using the new Post-dispatch Advice System (PDAS). Implemented on October 4, the system gives emergency callers over-the-phone advice for 32 common situations or illnesses.
Since 2011, the fire service – which oversees emergency calls in the city – has offered post-dispatch advice (PDA) to callers for six common problems including fractures, convulsions and hypothermia.
But in October it launched the new system, which uses questioning protocol software developed by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, extending PDA to more than 30 emergency situations, such as loss of consciousness, heart attacks and childbirth.
“I remember the father was panicking at one moment and I told him, ‘Keep calm, I’ll be with you throughout the whole process’ to calm him down,” Law said.
During the 10-minute call, the baby was born.
“I was talking to the father, and suddenly the phone went silent for a minute, which made me a bit nervous,” he said. “But then the baby’s cry broke the silence and I knew the baby was born.”
Law then instructed the father to check the newborn baby’s breathing, tying off the umbilical cord with shoelaces or a rope, before carefully wrapping his wife and new baby up in towels to keep them warm while staying on the phone with him until the ambulance arrived.
“It was very heart-warming. I’m glad I could witness the birth of a new life through the phone call,” he said, brimful of happiness.
Chan Yin-lam, who, like Law, works at the Fire Services Communications Centre, also helped a father deliver a baby over the phone.
She said it was an indelible memory. “It was an amazing feeling to hear the baby crying over the other side of the phone. I remember the mother was very concerned about her baby’s condition, and I assured her the baby was fine and told her to gently wipe the baby’s mouth and nose.”
Chan said that, just under three months in, she was glad to be using the new system.
“The job is more fulfilling now as we can do a lot more than just dispatching ambulances. We are able to give appropriate PDA to patients, stabilising their condition and preventing further deterioration before the ambulance crew arrives,” she added.
Dr Choi Yu-fai, the centre’s medical director of PDA, said: “In the past, the situation used to be a lot more chaotic without the aid of the PDA system. Now we have this significant change in our service in which our personnel can give proper first aid advice to the caller at the scene, making sure that patients can receive necessary treatments immediately, before the ambulance’s arrival.”
As of December 18, according to official figures, the department had used the new system to give advice to 112,175 ambulance callers, having received an average of 2,200 calls a day.