Police dispatchers have a job that requires a cool head and a calm demeanor. But every so often, a call comes in that touches an emotional chord.
For Riverhead police dispatcher Melissa Elco, a call Saturday that could have concluded tragically had a happy ending, when parents of a 15-month-old boy reported that their son was struggling to breathe.
When officers arrived, the baby was unconscious and non-responsive, police said.
Elco described the life-or-death call. "It was nerve wracking," Elco said. "At first the mother thought her son was having a seizure; he was convulsing and struggling to breathe."
While Elco asked the frantic parents a series of questions, such as whether the child was turning colors, the baby's father said he thought the baby might be choking on a toy.
Elco instructed the child's father to perform back thrusts to attempt to dislodge what may have been stuck in his airway.
"The dad was doing that well on his own, and I kept asking about the baby's breathing status," she said. "He told me that he was struggling, and convulsing."
Although the baby wasn't turning colors, he was unconscious and not breathing.
At the same time, three officers, including Officer Kerri Davis and Officer Eric Cohen, were dispatched to the family's home; Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance first responders were also dispatched to the scene.
Officer Davis arrived at the home in less than three minutes. "As soon as they heard the sirens, the dad ran the baby outside and the officer did CPR compressions to dislodge whatever may or may not have been stuck and to make sure the child was getting oxygen," Elco said.
Next, Officer Cohen arrived, and, with no ambulance yet on the scene, a decision was made to transport the child with his mother to Peconic Bay Medical Center in a patrol car.
"They got there in one minute -- it was very quick," Elco said. "We notified the emergency room that the baby was coming. And, by the time the officers were filling out the paperwork, they could hear the baby crying, and they knew he was breathing. It was a good ending."
Unfortunately, Elco said, choking calls are not uncommon. "It's very traumatic, because you know they can't help themselves. It's horrible for the parents, because they feel helpless."
But, Elco said, both parents of Saturday's choking baby "did a great job. The dad was doing the right things, and they were very cooperative."
The parents' quick thinking and the Riverhead police officers' rapid response all worked together for a joyful ending, Elco said. "It all worked out."
It is still unclear, Elco said, what the baby was choking on.
A mother herself, with a five-and-a-half-year old and a two-year old, Elco said the experience was emotional. "As dispatchers, we're pretty good -- we can be in the zone, so you do what you need to do. But once you hang up, it's a little overwhelming. All I could think about was my own babies."
Of the baby's recovery, Elco said, "I'm just so glad it worked out well for them."
Officer Cohen described the harrowing call, which came in at the beginning of his and Davis' shift. "Those calls are the ones that heighten everything -- that speed up your adrenaline," he said.
Cohen credited Davis for giving the baby chest compressions and Elco for her information and updates.
The decision was made to bring the baby to the hospital in the police car, Cohen said, in the interest of time.
"We loaded them into the back of the car and the baby started making some airway movement noises, but he was still unresponsive," he said.
Describing the moment at the hospital when he heard the baby's first cry, Cohen said, "That was very emotional," he said, adding that he and Davis, who are also both EMTs, have children. Cohen's children are 13 and 10, and Davis, he said, has a young child.
"It just breaks your heart," he said. "When we got there, the baby was lifeless. It's not a good feeling."
But, Cohen said police training and timing came together in the best possible way. "Sometimes, it works," he said. "It's a good feeling. Finally, it's a good story -- this turned out to be a happy ending."