By Jules A. Staats 

Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.

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Baby Choking


Years ago, professional fire departments paramedics were rare, the 911 emergency phone system was not yet existent, and only a handful of private ambulances were available to transport persons in a medical emergency.  There were no highly trained medical responders, but that would rapidly change in just a few more years.  However there were Los Angeles County Rescue Units and firemen who underwent then state-of-the-art training in the life saving procedures.  This is how Grandpa worked as a Law Enforcement Officer.  Police work and saving lives depended on the limited resources that were available at this time.


It was May, 1979 in the Greater Los Angeles area.  There was a slight chill in the air which is normal for the midnight hour.  Deputy Sheriff Jay and his patrol partner slowly walked out the back door of the Sheriff’s Station as they looked for their assigned black and white radio car.  When they found that the black and white radio car was not parked in the designated parking space, the partner stayed behind as Jay walked to the car ports that were also the mechanical repair area.  There in the garage was the assigned car, but the left front wheel had been removed.  A quick glance at the vehicle disclosed that the disc brake rotor was badly scored and the brake pads were completely worn out.  The car would be back in service by mid-morning after a County Mechanic arrived with replacement parts, but for now this car would not be going anywhere tonight.

He walked back to his partner who was carrying an eighteen inch square metal file box.  Inside this box was a complete assortment of report forms, along with some extra ammunition for their .38 special, duty revolvers.  His partner had set down the heavy box as he waited for the status of the patrol car.  Jay advised his partner deputy, that the brakes were gone, and they would have to get another car.  After saying that, he walked back to the station to speak to the Watch Sergeant.

The Sergeant checked his vehicle list and added Jay’s information to the sheet of broken cars.  There were no more vehicles available, and the patrol may have to be canceled.  The Sergeant told the patrol crew to wait in the coffee room while he made a few phone calls to try to find a patrol car.

Jay and his partner had consumed less than half a cup of coffee each when the Sergeant walked in, stating that he had found a car for the patrol crew.  Turns out, the D.U.E. (Drunk Driver Enforcement) Task Force had pulled their video cameras from a vehicle to place in another car.  The fully equipped black and white patrol car was in good shape, and could be used tonight to ensure that patrol was possible in the East Valley.

As he walked to the car with his partner, Jay was well aware of what kind of car he would be driving tonight.  The Drunk Driving patrol car had been funded by a special U.S. Government Grant, along with a pilot program from Chrysler Corporation.  These vehicles never were sold in the United States, but were also sold in Mexico.  These light body Plymouth Satellites were equipped with powerful Hemi engines.  It had a 360 CID (5.9L) V-8 engine with a single 4 barrel carburetor rated at 300 horsepower.  The exhaust pipes alone were a huge three inch diameter.  These were among the most powerful police interceptors in existence at this time.

Jay slid behind the wheel, looking at the hood which was painted flat black so that the usual video camera equipment would not be dazzled by overhead streetlights.  He twisted the key and marveled as the entire black and white patrol car twisted from the giant engine.  The noise from the exhaust pipes was loud and responsive to the gas pedal.  This was going to be an interesting night, he mused.

The Complaint Desk Dispatcher had already given the pair a detail, a burglary report call.  There was no hurry, and the crew navigated to the East Valley where the routine information would be taken.  The car required only a light touch of the accelerator to move down the street.  Jay had already fallen in love with this vehicle.

It turned out to be another slow night, and nothing exceptional happened as a result.  The crew just patrolled the entire area, and both wished for a chance to respond to an emergency to try the car out.  While in traffic, other motorists were obviously drawn to the low throaty growl of the 3 inch exhaust pipes.  However, there were no traffic violations observed and no traffic stops were made.

It was a little after three A.M. when an emergency call of a baby choking was dispatched to the unit.  The Radio Room advised their unit to respond Code 3.  As they raced to the general area of the call, Jay’s partner quickly checked the County Map and gave the bad news:  The address of the emergency was not even listed yet, and it was obviously part of a brand new housing development tract.

As his partner asked for more information over the radio regarding the location, Jay knew the general area of the new housing tract.  He saw vehicle traffic ahead and flipped the switch that activated the four 60 watt rotating and the required steady front-facing red lights.  The light bar vibration was loud enough to hear for a moment before the two 100 watt siren speakers blasted a warning into the night.

They had only a few miles to go, and the information of the actual location address still had not been found by the Radio Room dispatch.  Jay felt a knot in his stomach as he tried to figure out where this emergency was.  He knew that a choking baby could die in only minutes without lifesaving assistance.

Suddenly, a bright spot of light from above illuminated the roadway ahead.  It was the Xeon Spotlight from the L.A. County Sheriff Skynight helicopter.  From the aerial viewpoint, the helicopter team could easily see the fire engine in front of a residence.  The dilemma was resolved, as all Jay had to do was follow the light that was shining on the street.  While following the guiding light, he marveled about how many turns, left and right, he had to make before he finally spotted the red lights of the fire engine.

He turned off the siren as he finally arrived and was immediately met by two firemen, one carrying an oxygen cylinder and the other carrying a limp three month old infant.  The mother was right behind.

As the firemen all crammed into the back seat with the mother on the left, one of the firemen issued an order:  “Get going; fast!”  In response, Jay punched the accelerator, lighting up the tires, causing him to ease off the gas pedal, so the car would move.  A quick U turn and he was faced with getting out of this maize of dead end streets.  Once again, the bright spotlight illuminated the road ahead.  As his partner advised the Radio Room downtown that they were enroute to the hospital Code 3, Jay drifted through the cross streets, finally arriving at the main road.

It was only later that Jay and his partner learned that absolutely no private ambulance was available to respond and that the only way to transport the baby was the “grab and run” method. 

The patrol car picked up speed with no traffic present at this time of the morning.  With the car drifting slightly, he entered the on-ramp of the Freeway.  He recalled that only a few weeks ago, he had been re-trained in pursuit driving at the Pomona Fairgrounds.  The refresher course had sharpened his skills so that he felt that he could safely drive this fast in this extreme emergency.

The baby had previously thrown up at home and quickly inhaled the formula liquid.  It turned out that the County Fire Department fire engine was just down the block handling a report of smoke that was unfounded.  When the call came out to County Fire of the baby choking, they were only a few houses and seconds away.

The patrol car was traveling on the Freeway at just over 100 miles per hour, but one Fireman shouted in a tense voice, to go faster.  Jay placed more pressure on the accelerator, and watched the speedometer pass 140.  There was no vibration, as the special balanced high speed radial tires—somewhat rare in those days—performed beautifully and as designed.

The Firemen were taking shifts with an aspirator and the oxygen mask, trying to clear the airway and still force air into the baby’s lungs.  Only a block from the hospital, Jay heard the baby cry loudly.  The condition of the baby was improved but not resolved, and Jay watched the two firemen sprint into the Emergency Room doors with the baby.

Jay parked the car and walked into the hospital Emergency Room area.  A receptionist advised that there was a phone call for the driver of the patrol unit.  It was the Radio Room Sergeant.

The Sergeant asked if the baby is going to make it, and Jay stated that he heard the child cry as they approached the hospital, but the airway was still not completely clear and also that doctors were working on the infant as they spoke.  The Sergeant then assumed a condescending tone of his voice when he advised that the total Code 3 run—streets and freeway—was so many minutes.  The significant factor was that the average speed of the run to the hospital was 125 miles an hour.

Jay admitted he drove fast, but explained to him about the car he was driving.  That obviously did not satisfy the Radio Room Supervisor, but Jay was convinced that speed was necessary to save a very young life.  He would have to explain this to his Captain tomorrow as part of a mandatory de-briefing.  His actions were subsequently justified and the incident was forgotten by the Station Commander.

What he pondered years later, were the coming together of many events that had to happen to save this young life:  He had recently retrained in pursuit driver incidents, he was driving a non-standard high performance radio car, and there was a Fire Engine with a trained Paramedic on the crew.  The fire unit was only a few houses away during the emergency call for help.  A Los Angeles County Sheriff helicopter was overhead and was able to guide the patrol car into and out of the housing tract using their searchlight.

The fireman had the ability to partially clear an infant’s airway.  They got to the hospital in time and the Physicians did their lifesaving jobs.  The baby survived without injury.  Yes, someone could say that is really a whole bunch of random coincidences, but Jay knew better.  He still thanks God for His assistance and protection that was given on this eventful night.


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