While emergency dispatchers don’t often get to hear how things turn out for those who call for help, the loud cries of a healthy baby girl born in back of a taxi cab on a recent morning were especially gratifying for Central Point resident Rio Gilinsky.
“I still get goosebumps when I think about it,” said the Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon dispatcher.
Gilinsky met the cab driver, Deborah Smith of Ashland, on Friday to recount the thrilling birth in the back of Smith’s cab on Dec. 28. With just 10 months on the job — for both women — Gilinsky said the call just after 7 a.m. prompted her to immediately focus and allowed her training to kick in.
It started shortly after Smith picked up the mother on the south end of town.
“There was no mention there was labor or anything. I got there and she was doubled over. I could tell she was in labor. I got her in the car and we were headed to Ashland. I called Ashland hospital and they said, ‘We can’t take her here.’ I said, ‘She’s in labor,’” Smith recounted.
“She thought her contractions were about five minutes apart but I could tell they were a lot closer than that, so we were coming across the freeway and she said, ‘I’ve got to push!’”
Smith said she parked and called 911, and Gilinsky, 24, answered.
“We answer the same way every time. ‘911, what is the address of the emergency?’” Gilinsky said.
“And she goes, ‘There’s some lady having a baby in the back of my cab!’”
The hospital and dispatch were unable to release identifying information about the family or baby for privacy reasons.
Gilinsky said the software used for her training provides questions and prompts to walk a caller through handling an emergency.
Smith, 54, was grateful that the mother’s urge to push happened before she pulled onto the freeway.
Thanks to a hands-free device, Smith was able to stay on the phone with Gilinsky while having both hands available to catch the newborn.
Immediately able to see the newborn’s head crowning when she got to the backseat with the mother, Smith said it seemed like only a handful of minutes passed between picking up the mother and hearing the baby’s cries.
Gilinsky credited Smith for being willing to help the mother.
“It takes a special kind of person, man or woman, who is willing to get their hands dirty and handle the situation,” Gilinsky said.
“There’s always that concern that the caller won’t be able to do what you need them to do. My first thought would be, ‘What if my caller doesn’t want to touch it or what if the baby isn’t breathing and they can’t do CPR?’”
A mother and grandmother, Smith was ready for the task at hand.
“As soon as she was out, she put her hand on her mom’s chest!’” Smith recalled.
With an ambulance en route, Smith was directed by Gilinsky to wipe the baby off with one towel and wrap her in a clean one. Smith’s vest and scarf had to suffice for lack of towels.
With neither mother nor Smith wearing shoes with laces, Smith improvised with a string hanging off her sweater to tie off the umbilical cord. Elated with the happy ending — albeit a thrice-washed vest and some car cleaning for Smith — both women called their own loved ones to tell their tale.
“I called my mom,” Gilinsky said.
“I called my daughter,” said Smith.
Gilinsky, who received a coveted “stork pin” from her supervisors after handling the call, said the experience was something she’ll never forget.
“I have had co-workers say, ‘I’ve worked here for 15 years and I’ve never had a call like that,’” she said.
“I didn’t expect to get these really feel-good calls so early. I already know I love this job and it’s for me, but I just had no idea.”
Smith isn’t a big believer of coincidence but admits to her fondness for connections between helpers. Smith recounted an instance of helping a fare avoid being scammed while Gilinsky, on the same day as the newborn arrived, helped a caller save a man’s life who suffered a heart attack in Food 4 Less.
“I always say that every day, you never know what the day will bring. I never know what my calls will be,” said Smith.
“Every day, and in something like this every phone call, it’s like a package. You don’t know what it’s going to be. You just open it up and do the best you can.”
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.