Delivering Babies Just Part of the Job

Firefighters cherish the calls that bring a new life into the
n By Kristen Munson Staff Writer

Gilroy – A 22-year-old woman passing through Gilroy went into labor. She pulled into the parking lot of a medical complex figuring someone would be able to help her.

Someone could.

Only he drove up in a big red fire engine instead of the ambulance she was expecting, and delivered the woman’s baby girl in the backseat of her van.

“It’s exciting to see a live birth and a new life,” said Firefighter/Paramedic Greg Lopez who delivered the infant in March. “It’s a good feeling.”

While the side of all their vehicles may read Fire Department, firefighters are trained to handle emergencies other than fires.

Last year, 76 percent of calls the Gilroy Fire Department received were medically related. According to Santa Clara County Public Health Department statistics, Gilroy emergency personnel average one delivery-related call each month.

About four weeks ago, a woman went into labor and had to be transported by ambulance to the hospital. About three weeks prior to that, Gilroy Firefighters delivered another baby.

While the GFD does not keep statistics on the number of babies delivered in the field, it happens more often than one might think.

According to Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Phil King, one firefighter/paramedic has delivered between 15 and 20 babies. King himself delivered about 20 during his 10 years as a firefighter/paramedic in San Bernardino.

County dispatchers have even talked people through a delivery over the phone, Lopez said.

Every firefighter in Gilroy is, at least, Emergency Medical Technician-B certified, meaning they can deliver babies in the field. Paramedics receive additional training and can respond to complications that may arise.

“I’ve been fortunate to have healthy deliveries,” Lopez said. “I’ve only had four (deliveries) so I consider myself green.”

Paramedics carry obstetric kits equipped with clamps, resuscitation and suction devices, syringes, and other tools for emergency situations they may encounter when its not the standard breathe and push delivery.

They are trained to handle conditions such as when the umbilical chord, limbs or other body parts comes out before the head, meconium aspiration – when the baby inhales a mixture of feces and amniotic fluid while still in the womb, excessive bleeding, miscarriages and premature births.

“It’s a different type of call – as opposed to somebody who is really sick or having trouble breathing,” Lopez said. “As long as all goes well and the baby is healthy – it’s exciting.”

In each of Lopez’s deliveries, the mother has had other pregnancies. Historically, the more babies a woman has, the faster each delivery is.

And it is that experience of knowing what to expect that may get them into trouble.

“They think they know when they’re going to go … and sometimes they’re wrong,” Lopez said, shaking his head. “I like both aspects of my job (as a firefighter/paramedic). It’s what keeps me interested in this job. Everyday is different. You don’t know what the calls will bring.”

According to King, generally the babies delivered in the field belong to low-income mothers who may not have access to prenatal care.

“I’ve seen some strange (deliveries),” he said.

One petite woman did not even know she was pregnant, he recalled.

“She thought she was going to get up and have a bowl movement,” King said. “She’s in the bathroom with a baby with this completely dumbfounded look on her face.”

While such deliveries are uncommon, they are not unheard of, King explained. Most firefighter assisted deliveries are not quite as odd.

All five deliveries Engineer/Paramedic Lani Antonio has encountered have been less dramatic and less strange.

“Normally when I come in the baby has been out, or coming out,” he said. “I’m more or less just the catcher … Luckily there’s always been a positive outcome.”

Firefighters cherish the calls that result in a delivery.

“It’s a happy call,” Antonio said. “It definitely brightens up the day for everybody. (Deliveries) happen everyday, in every part of the world. We’re just lucky to sometimes be a part of it.”

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