The modern-day guardian angel. Questions to Sirko Wolff, Mercedes-Benz emergency call operative

He is one of the voices in the background helping to save lives since 2012 as an emergency call operative at the Bosch Service Center in Magdeburg. An Interview.

Sirko, how did you become an eCall operative?

I was originally working in a different department at Bosch, so I sort of grew into this role. Of course we undergo special training before we start, in which we learn things like how to keep control of the conversation in an emergency situation. But theory is one thing – in practice the world often looks very different. When it comes to it, you have to adjust in the blink of an eye to the specific emergency and the people involved.

How many of you are there dealing with the needs and emergencies of Mercedes-Benz drivers?

Here in Magdeburg there are 15 of us working on the Mercedes-Benz emergency call system; with Berlin and Barcelona as well, there are around 200 colleagues across Europe. The important thing to mention is that we really can be contacted at any time of night or day, 24/7 the whole year round. To achieve this, we work in three shifts. Ultimately, no one who needs help should get caught in a waiting loop – we answer 99 percent of all calls within the first ten seconds.

What does it take to do this job – empathy or a cool head?

Sympathy for those affected, to be able to understand how they're feeling and to adapt to the specific situation. You see, not everyone reacts in the same way in an emergency: some people start to panic and scream straight away, while others stay calm even when they're really badly injured. It's not always matters of life and death: it has been known for people to press the button and ask where the filler cap is. Needless to say, we're friendly and helpful to them, too. In dealing with calls like this, after all, we're acting as a filter for the emergency services. If the technical questions are rather more detailed and go beyond the whereabouts of the filler cap, we transfer the enquiry to the Mercedes-Benz Customer Assistance Center in Maastricht.

How many emergency calls do you get in a day, approximately, and how many of them are genuine emergencies where you need to alert a rescue crew?

Let's look at yesterday as an example: across the whole of Germany we took 650 calls. Of those, around three percent were genuine emergencies where, for example, the airbag had been triggered or someone was having a heart attack. Personally, I've never actually experienced a shift without any calls at all. We normally get 20-30 calls a shift, at most.

Are there certain times of day when it gets particularly busy?

It goes hand in hand with the level of traffic: a lot happens in the morning, when people are on their way to work, and then again in the afternoon when they're heading back home. And of course during the holidays, or when the first snow falls.

Are there any emergencies that you remember particularly?

There was a heart attack once. The driver managed to find the strength to make the call himself and told us he was experiencing outbreaks of sweating. We were able to get an emergency doctor to him in time.

How do you switch off at night?

If the obligatory walk around the block doesn't do it, we are also able to take the day off after a particularly nasty case. And of course our employer offers psychological support as a follow-up if we feel we need it. But with a professional approach, it's actually reasonably easy to switch off. It's like a switch within me that flicks on or off automatically. That's important while you're on duty, too: as soon as one emergency situation has been dealt with, you have to turn your focus to the next case.

It is a special feature of the Mercedes-Benz emergency call system that callers can communicate with you in their own language, even if they're in a different country. How do you call an ambulance, for example, in Spanish?

It's all made possible by our two-operative approach: one operative communicates with the driver in the language that is set in the vehicle's infotainment system. We cover eleven languages across Europe in this way, incidentally. A second operative, meanwhile, speaks to the relevant national rescue command center, for example in Spanish. The two operatives exchange all the necessary information in English via a chat function.

How should we picture your workplace? If an airbag goes off, you automatically receive information about the location of the accident, the number of passengers, etc., is that correct?

Precisely. We are sent the GPS data and are able to pinpoint the vehicle on a section of map. On top of that we get information about the number of passengers – this comes from feedback on seat occupancy or seat belts in use - and about the vehicle, in other words details of the model, color and drive system. Bosch has also programmed a special user interface that shows all these data in graphic form so that they can be quickly and intuitively assimilated.

Have any accident victims ever got in touch with you to say thank you?

Not so far with me, no. But there are police control centres that have come back to us after an emergency and praised the way the cooperation worked with them.

Photo: Bosch Service Solutions

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