About Us

We are the only emergency ambulance service in greater Wellington and the Wairarapa, and the only ones in the country who are free.

Get Involved

We are the only emergency ambulance service in greater Wellington and the Wairarapa, and the only ones in the country who are free.

What we do

Our news

Meet Claire – Australasia NAVIGATOR Dispatcher of the Year, 2022

Meet Claire – Australasia NAVIGATOR Dispatcher of the Year, 2022

Meet Claire – Australasia NAVIGATOR Dispatcher of the Year

Claire has been working in our Clinical Communications Centre since 2008. She works with a team who answer emergency 111 calls as well as non-urgent calls from medical centres and hospitals.

Claire (centre) with her colleagues

“Before I joined Wellington Free, I ran a sign-writing business with a partner. I had no medical background at all,” says Claire.

“But I grew up in a family who all worked in emergency services. My grandfather, uncle, dad and brother have all been fire fighters.”

One day, Claire saw an advert in the Hutt News for Emergency Medical Dispatchers, and says it just caught her attention. “I applied, had a phone interview and went to an open day. I’ve never looked back!”

Claire still remembers her first day at Wellington Free Ambulance. “I’d had no sleep the night before. I was so nervous and my stomach was doing loops. But once I arrived, been introduced to everybody and started my training, I relaxed.”

“It can be quite daunting when you first get in that seat and start taking calls. There’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that you have peoples’ lives in your hands. We have to get so many things right. I felt a lot of pressure.”      

Claire settled in quickly. “I really enjoyed the interaction, helping people,” she says. After a while she found herself naturally helping other, newer members of the team. “I thought to myself, I have a lot of knowledge to pass on and two years ago, when the role of Call Taking Supervisor came up, it made sense for me to apply.”

While Claire still takes calls herself, her primary role now is to support other call takers on her team. She is also one of WFA’s peer supporters, which involves reaching out to other staff members after traumatic calls or experiences and offering support.

Claire has seen a lot of change over the last 14 years. One of the most significant is that call taking is now handled nationally.

“When I first started, all calls from the Lower North Island would come to us, and if all the Emergency Medical Call Takers were busy, callers would sit in the queue until someone was free.

“It’s changed now. New Zealand now has three emergency communications centres – north, central, and south. It doesn’t matter where the call taker is located - if you are free you get the next call, no matter where in New Zealand it is coming from. This was a massive change, and it’s really helped as it means people don’t need to wait as long for help.”

Since Claire first joined, there have also been some significant technology changes. Now, if someone is calling for help, and they don’t know exactly where they are or can’t describe where they are, we have sophisticated technology which can help locate them.

Claire recalls a recent call where a man had come off his motorbike. He was with a group of people, but none of the group knew exactly where they were. “All they knew about the area they were in was that they had just had a coffee and were taking some back roads. Thanks to the call being made from a  mobile phone, we could pinpoint precisely where they were. He was critically injured and without that technology we would not have been able to find them.”

Each year, all the emergency communications centres throughout Australia and New Zealand have the opportunity to nominate their Emergency Medical Dispatchers for a range of awards which recognise consistent excellent performance and remarkable skill, empathy and professionalism. In November 2022, Claire received the prestigious Australasia NAVIGATOR Dispatcher of the Year award.

“When I found out I’d won the Dispatcher of the Year award, I was just gob smacked!” says Claire. “I knew some of the other people who were nominated and they are all amazing at what they do. We all do the same thing, so it feels a bit odd being the one who was selected. This is my job, I don’t do it for accolades or awards, I do it because I love it.”

Claire’s Shift Manager, Simon, was one of the people who nominated Claire for the award. In his nomination, he noted that Claire handles her calls “with compassion and empathy, even when helping people through complex situations.”

What the judges found really remarkable, was the description of one particular call that Claire took during 2022.

“It was a fentanyl overdose,” says Claire. “I remember it happened in the afternoon. The patient’s partner rang, told me he had taken fentanyl and was not awake. After some questions we established that he wasn’t breathing.”

“I needed the caller to get her partner onto the floor and start giving CPR. However, their children were watching and  trying to climb on their dad’s chest. I needed to distract the children, so I told the older childto go and help with the baby. You can quickly and easily die from a fentanyl overdose. I needed to make sure the CPR was being performed correctly.”

“The patient was in a very remote spot, nearly an hour by road. We needed to send our paramedics in a helicopter as it would have taken too long to get there by ambulance. I talked the caller through giving CPR and stayed on the phone giving instructions for about 25 minutes,” recalls Claire.

“When our paramedics arrived, they administered a Fentanyl antidote - and he sat up and started talking immediately.”

In Simon’s nomination letter, he noted that “the patient would not have survived had it not been for Claire’s expert navigation… as well as her calm yet assertive delivery.”

“I am really proud to have won the award, but I’m still just doing my job!” says Claire. “The fact that my peers took the time to nominate me – that means more to me than anything.”

Kate Jennings, Head of Clinical Communications for Wellington Free Ambulance,  remarked how proud she was of Claire and how well deserved the win was.

“Claire is a remarkable member of staff, she is cool and calm under pressure, but still shows huge amount of empathy and compassion for callers, patients, and fellow staff members alike. To still be passionate about the role after 14 years, shows an incredible amount of resilience and humility." 

 Kate added that whilst Claire's award is a massive achievement for her and Wellington Free Ambulance's Clinical Communication Centre,  Claire joins some other awesome staff members who have been previous award winners.

Wellington Free Ambulance has now won the award 4 times in the last 8 years. “For a small centre like ours (relative to some of the bigger Australian services) to consistently produce such high-quality call takers is simply astounding," says Kate. 

Kate advised that the WFA Clinical Communications Centre is also an Accredited Centre of Excellence, which is an international standard that only the top 4% of all ambulance centers across the world achieve.

“When I reflect on what my staff do, day in, day out – saving lives, under constant pressure, working long hours – and they do it with professionalism, compassion, and excellence. They work together as a team, supporting each other and consistently striving to improve our service. I am truly humbled. They really are the unsung heroes that you will never see!”



{{contactForm.optionSelected ? contactForm.optionSelected.introText : contactForm.options[0].introText}}


You Rights & More info


Your Rights

As our patient, and under the Health and Disability Commissioner’s Code of Rights, you have the right to:

  • Be treated with respect
  • Be fully informed
  • Freedom from discrimination, coercion, harassment and exploitation
  • dignity and independence
  • Services of an appropriate standard
  • Effective communication
  • Be fully informed
  • Make an informed choice and give informed consent
  • Support
  • Respect of teaching or research
  • Complain

If we don’t respect these, let us know and we’ll do everything we can to put it right.

Support in the process

If you need support or help with making a complaint, you can contact the office of the Health and Disability Commissioner and ask for an advocate.

0800 555 050


Message sent

Case ID: {{contactForm.caseID}}


Close window