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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

A Baby's Story

An officer's encounter with a baby wouldn't make a Hollywood ending.

September 11, 2012  |  by Ti Goetz

CC_Flickr: TedsBlog
CC_Flickr: TedsBlog

All cops carry images and memories that will remain burned into their minds for the rest of their lives. That's the nature of the business. Sometimes they are good memories: a practical joke, a really good pursuit, the shared camaraderie of fighting the good fight. Often, they are not so good: pain and suffering in all its horror and gore, the countless instances of man's inhumanity to man, and above all, the visceral pain that comes with watching children die. This is one of those stories.

It all started with breakfast. The "three beeper" went out just as my plate of scrambled eggs landed on the table in front of me. "Baby not breathing," and only one short block away from where a fellow sergeant (Eric) and I had just sat down for what we thought would be an early morning bite.

We probably made it to the front door of the home in less than 60 seconds. As we ran up to the steps, we were met by the mother—her face tear streaked and contorted by the terror only a mother can feel, hysterically screaming, "My baby, my baby!" It didn't take us long to figure out that one, she didn't speak much English and two, something had gone seriously wrong in the back bedroom she was frantically guiding us to. The first thing I noticed on my way to that back bedroom was that the house was dark. The second thing I noticed was that the bedroom was even darker. My futile flipping up and down of various light switches revealed a third issue, none of the lights worked. All of the really good problems in law enforcement usually end up being a compilation of multiple issues, all of them destined to make your performance under pressure as difficult as possible. This one was no exception.

By the light of our handheld torch, we could see the young father had what looked like an eight-month-old baby lying on the bed on his back. He was clearly trying to do chest compressions, but each time he pushed down, the bed compressed rather than the baby's chest. The scene was chaotic. The mother alternated between screaming and asking us if her baby was dead. The father was not responding to our repeated shouts to move the baby to the floor, and we both knew rescue folks were going to be at least five minutes out. When it was clear that the father was beyond hearing or understanding what we were trying to tell him, Eric just reached over and grabbed the kid and moved him to the floor. As he dropped down with the child I looked up and, for a second, stared straight into the father's eyes. He was done. Neither one of us had to say a word. The message was clear; his eyes were filled with the desperation and fear that any father would feel in that situation. He looked into my eyes and I read the plea, "Save my baby!"

With a certain mental shock, I realized it was game time. I dropped down and while Eric began compressions, I began mouth to mouth. Breathing for someone else is an almost surreal experience. Like most officers, I've had department CPR training every few years, but the differences between training on a mannequin and suddenly being confronted by the demands of saving an eight-month-old baby are stark. My brain was in overdrive: Am I doing it right? Is it 15 compressions to two breaths or 30 to two? Do I have a good seal over the nose and mouth? Am I blowing too hard?

In the end, we both did what countless cops before us have done, and many more after us will have to do in similar traumatic situations; we did the best we could. We both dropped down to our knees on that darkened bedroom floor and tried to save a life.

The next five to 10 minutes was a hazy recollection of breathing and compressions, intermingled with the sobs and tears of two hysterical parents, praying to God that these two strangers in blue would do what all cops everywhere are expected to do: make everything OK again. It was the longest five to 10 minutes of my life. Eventually, the fire folks showed up. In a whirlwind of tubes and equipment and bustling bodies, they hooked that young struggling life up and whisked him off to the nearby hospital.

As the sirens faded away into the distance we quietly stood alone on the now empty street, looked at each other, got back in our cars, and drove back to that same diner. We walked back to that same booth we had been sitting in such a short lifetime ago, then stared dumbly at each other, as that same waiter brought that same food back to our same table. I looked down at my plate of still warm scrambled eggs, then up at Eric as feelings and emotions swirled around inside me. I could see the same confused tangle of emotions reflected on Eric's face. Everything was the same, except us.

Later that morning we learned that the hospital got the baby's heart beating again. For a short time we both felt pretty good. But anyone in this line of work knows that there are very few "happy" endings in this business, and there was no happy ending here. The next day we called the family to see how the baby was doing. The mother told us in her haltingly anguished English that her baby died during the night. Before she hung up, she thanked us for trying, and said we gave her family a chance to say goodbye. It was a bittersweet consolation.

It certainly wasn't like the movies. That baby should have lived a long and glorious life, the parents should have made us honorary members of their extended and appreciative family, and Eric and I should have become surrogate "uncles" as we helped that beautiful child grow into a productive member of society. But this isn't the movies. That baby died, I ate my breakfast, and then went on with the cold, hard business of policing.

I've seen much of death over the years, but this one stuck with me. Maybe because I'm a father, maybe because my own children mean more to me than life itself, maybe because as I breathed for that child I couldn't help but see in my mind's eye the faces of my own son and daughter. Whatever the reason, that memory has been relegated to that special file of memories bound to stay with me for the rest of my life, safely tucked away under the "do not disturb" sign.

Ti Goetz is a lieutenant with the Hawthorne (Calif.) Police Department. He has worked patrol, gangs, detective bureau, internal affairs, SWAT, and is now a patrol watch commander.

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

Don Ott @ 9/15/2012 11:23 PM

SGT. L.A.S.D. Retired ; been there done that many times . Very well written , captures the emotion very well . DLO

Diane Girgis @ 9/18/2012 7:11 PM

I feel sad for the Lieutenant that he has to carry those images with's a sad picture but hed did his absolute best...they both did and I am thankful that they are here to tell us stories like this one..Thank you to the Hawthorne PD...I am in Downey, California

Joanna Parrott @ 9/19/2012 7:49 AM

I was in the same place, my baby did not make it, they said it was SIDS. After 26 years on the job I still remember the familys name. My heart still hurts for the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hurder. I will never forget.

Dave Lain @ 9/19/2012 8:27 AM

God bless the first responders who face equal circumstances every hour of every day. Those experiences can sometimes fuel the energy for the next critical incident, but more often they accumulate and cause career burn-out. Unfortunately there is no place to "safely tuck them away". It is imperative that responders access "Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) resources to minimize the emotionally erosive effect that such calls create.

Nichole @ 9/19/2012 2:26 PM

Being a mom I should know better than to read these things. Every day, for some reason, I end up reading about some abused child, neglected child, beaten child, or otherwise endangered or, god forbid, dead child. I hate it, but I'm drawn to it, I can't explain why.

And every time I read one of these stories, I think about my now 2 year old daughter. And I wonder how could anyone ever hurt a child? And in a case such as this, how could anyone move on after losing a child?

I pray I never have to find out.

Well written story, brought me to tears. I feel for both the responding officers, the medical responders, and the hospital staff. I'm sure their grief, although they're "trained" to deal with it, is just as great as the family that lost their child.

Norm @ 9/19/2012 4:35 PM

This article puts to words what so many of us in law enforcement have experienced. As a small city police lieutenant of twenty years, I have many of what I have described as mental snapshots that I file away until they (without warning) crop nack up. Very well put Lt. Goetz.

christine keeshan @ 9/20/2012 5:29 PM

How can one say thank you? To all first responding, it is a calling. I am grateful for your choosing each day to continue serving. You amaze me. Prayers go up. Love goes out. Thanks seems small for what you do. Always find a way to laugh with those you hold close.

Dan @ 9/24/2012 9:27 AM

I believe any of us that have been in this profession for a time may have those same images. I have them. One of the things I will not miss when I retire in a few months (30 years of service).

MIchael A. Knox @ 9/26/2012 6:11 AM

This story sounds so much like my own. Three-week-old baby not breathing. CPR in progress. I was the first one there. Here's this mother handing me--then a 23-year-old patrol officer--her infant asking me to save her baby. Of course, I couldn't, despite trying my best to do infant CPR the way I had been training. I remember the Fire-Rescue guys getting there and taking over. I couldn't believe how easy they made it look to do CPR--like an orchestrated performance. For me, it was just, Oh, God! Get those Rescue guys here now!

Thomas P' O'Connor @ 9/26/2012 11:59 AM

As a real old PO and still on the job I cant' help identifying with the author of this article. I am involved in police training issues to include child abuse/infant death investigation. I use actual child victim photos from cases I handled,as many times as I have made this presentation I can hardly make it through the training sessison without having to stop, catch my breath and hold back my pent up emotions. Once involved in a double homicide of two young males I came home and could not sleep. My son came into my room and asked me why I was so sad. I didn't answer, he said "Dad I know why you are so sad, those boys looked just like me, didn't they? He was right and at his young age he captured the hidden emotions that most of us cannot or will not deal with.

V. Phillips @ 9/26/2012 12:10 PM

I recently responded to an infant left inside a vehicle all day. We took the baby strapped into safety seat to the emergency room one block away. It was to late, but we were just hoping for a better ending and felt it was better than waiting on EMS. Very sad day.

Sidney @ 9/26/2012 3:00 PM

"Do not disturb"---that hit home. As an officer who worked crimes against children for many years, I know I put those images "somewhere" that can't haunt me. The emotion is real and captured in real terms in this article.......thank you.

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