GREENFIELD — A Hancock County 911 dispatcher earned a stork pin for her role in helping a sheriff’s deputy deliver a baby in Greenfield earlier this year.
Bonnie Guzman, who joined the Hancock County 911 Center in 2007, was honored last week with cake and “It’s a Girl!” balloons from the Indiana Statewide 911 Board for calmly and confidently walking Hancock County sheriff’s deputy Richard VanOsdol through the process of delivering a baby on April 6.
A frantic grandmother called at 10:45 p.m. saying her daughter’s water had just broken and she was refusing to get in a car and go to the hospital, fearing the full-term baby was already on the way.
The baby was crowning almost as soon as officers arrived.
The state 911 board applauded Guzman’s efforts through its social media channels, saying the April 6 delivery was the first call in over a decade in which a Hancock County 911 dispatcher was called upon to help deliver a child.
Guzman had just started her shift and barely sat down when the call came through that night.
Greg Duda, public information officer for the Hancock County 911 Center, said Guzman was the perfect person to take the call.
Guzman quickly accessed the call center’s Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) system on her computer screen, asking the caller and responding officers questions and clicking the boxes corresponding to each answer to walk them through each step.
“The system tells you step by step how to do everything,” said Duda, but it took a calm, nurturing dispatcher like Guzman to execute it perfectly.
“Bonnie always does a great job, and there was no one more deserving of getting that call. The way she talks to people, how calm she is, she was perfect for that,” he said.
Despite what you may see in movies and television shows, Duda said it’s pretty rare that 911 dispatchers are tasked with helping to deliver a baby.
“Bonnie did a great job, and we’re all very proud of her,” he said.
Guzman said it took some convincing to get the panicked mom to agree to undress and lie down so officers could check on the baby’s progress. When they did, they saw the baby was well on its way.
“I asked, ‘What do you see?’ and I hear everyone say, ‘The head, the head! We see the head,” Guzman recalled.
Thinking she was about to guide the grandmother through delivering the baby, Guzman was relieved to hear VanOsdol on the other end of the phone awaiting her next instructions. Another deputy on the scene took some children who were at the house into another room to keep them occupied.
Guzman methodically talked VanOsdol through how to guide the baby out, reading the steps laid out by the EMD word for word.
“I instructed him to guide the baby out and put the palm of his hand under the baby’s head, and reminded him to be very careful and go slowly because the baby would be slippery,” she recalled.
“The next instructions were to make sure not to pull the cord and to make sure the cord wasn’t around the baby’s neck, which it wasn’t, she said. “Then we instructed him to have someone bring clean towels to use to wipe off the baby’s nose and mouth.”
Guzman then heard the baby’s cries coming from the other end of the phone, which was music to her ears.
VanOsdol reported that both mom and baby were doing well just as Emergency Medical Technicians arrived, making sure both were stable before whisking them off to the hospital.
It wasn’t until then that Guzman and VonOsdol got to take a deep breath.
“I think he was a little bit in shock that he had delivered a baby,” Guzman said of VanOsdol, who she’s known through the sheriff’s department for years.
VanOsdol thanked Guzman for helping walk him through the process.
“He came to the dispatch center afterwards and thanked me for being on the other end of the phone,” Guzman recalled. “He said, ‘Your voice kept me calm telling me what to do next because I couldn’t think.’”
“Then he was telling me how relieved he was when the baby started crying, and that she was so cute with lots and lots and lots of hair.”
It was a great day for both the deputy and the dispatcher.
“I was just excited and thankful that everything was OK,” said Guzman. “Both of us were excited how it all went, especially when I started thinking this could have been so much worse.”
If the baby had been breech or been in some other type of distress, Guzman said the EDM system would have guided her through how to direct VanOsdol, step by step.
“Thankfully it all went well and they ended up with a happy, healthy baby,” she said.
Guzman said the experience was a first for her in her 15 years as an emergency dispatcher, although she once listened in on a call in which a dispatcher walked a mother though delivering her own baby.
While those calls ended in celebration, Guzman said others sadly end in heartbreak.
“It was exciting to get to hear a baby take its first breath, but I’ve experienced just the opposite before, where I’ve heard someone take their last breath,” she said.
She’s also fielded calls from anguished callers who had just discovered a loved one who had died.
While those calls are heartbreaking, it’s the positive ones that keep her coming back to work every day.
“Probably one of the best calls I ever had was about 10 years ago when a man probably in his 40s had collapsed and stopped breathing at a local gym, and I walked the caller through how to use (a defibrillator) and perform CPR until they were able to get him back,” she recalled.
“I’ve never forgotten that call.”
Another one that sticks out in her mind is the time she helped guide Greenfield police officers to the back of a home where a mother and two children were trapped by a fire. “The officers showed up in time to catch them when they jumped from the second floor,” recalled Guzman, who was able to ascertain the family’s location over the back patio before the phone line went dead.
It’s all in a day’s work for a 911 dispatcher, she said.
“It’s an amazing career, and I’m thankful that I’ve been blessed to be able to do it and do it in the county that I grew up in,” said Guzman, 56, who graduated from Mt. Vernon High School in 1984.
She credits her younger brother, Rick Wilcher, a former dispatcher and longtime Greenfield police officer, with encouraging her to pursue a career as dispatcher.
“He’s been a great example to me and then he’s also been my mentor of how to be a better dispatcher. He’s been great in teaching me how to handle the stress,” she said.
The brother and sister both worked third shift for a number of years, often crossing paths on the job.
“It’s been kind of cool that I’ve had 15 years working with him. I tease him all the time that it’s fun to tell your brother where to go and what to do all night long,” Guzman said.
“It’s really cool to have someone to talk to (about the job) — someone who really understands. We’ve been able to be there and support each other when I’ve had a bad call, or kind of high five each other when we’ve had a good call.”
Guzman credits her director, John Jokantas, for making sure she and fellow dispatchers stay up to date on training and “go far above and beyond what’s expected. He’s constantly making sure we’re in training. I have friends ask me all the time how long it takes to train to be a dispatcher, and I say ‘the rest of your life. We never stop training, ever,” she said.
The longtime dispatcher said she feels blessed knowing the work she does makes a difference in people’s lives.
“I absolutely love my job,” said Guzman, who had previously worked in secretarial and office management positions since she was 17.
“As I was getting ready to turn 40, I knew I didn’t like my job, and I just wasn’t happy with the career choice I had made. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference,” she said. “Now I am thankful that I get to do a job where you have the opportunity to help someone every time you pick up the phone.”