Patrolman Keith Upton has served with Delran Township Police for the last 22 years, and he’s quick to admit he’s seen some stuff in his time.
But on a snowy Feb. 2, aside from expecting the usual calls regarding snow-trapped cars or vehicles involved in road incidents, he never expected to respond to a call for a baby only minutes from birth.
“It was early in the shift, which turned into a real busy morning, going from call to call to call. And I remember thinking we get ‘woman in labor’ calls a lot, and I’ve gone to them before, but they’re first-time mothers,” he explained during a conversation with the Sun on Feb. 24.
“We get there and contractions are about 30 minutes apart. EMS shows up, they ship her off, and (she) has the baby at the hospital.”
This time, Upton had to be a bit more alert. En route to the home, the description from headquarters was a bit more urgent: “full-term pregnancy and contractions five minutes apart.”
“I’m driving but not too fast in snow. Then I pull up to the house, and dispatch suddenly puts out, on radio, that birth was imminent,” he continued. “I knocked on the door, announced I’m there, and once I walked in, the mother was screaming.”
Upton knew how urgent the situation was when he observed the expectant mother set up on the floor and the husband on the phone to 911. A flashback to training led him to ask if the baby was crowning yet, the husband replied in the affirmative, and Upton only needed a quick glance to confirm.
On the other end of the line was Central Dispatch Operator Mark Boyd, who provided immediate and continued assistance. A 10-year veteran at Burlington County Central Communications, Boyd was working the Emergency Medical Desk, and was able to talk Upton and the father through a safe and successful delivery, which occurred at 10:04 a.m.
“This was the first time I saw something like this live and not in a training video. Within 30 seconds (the head) went from a silver dollar pancake to twice the size. The husband hung up in anticipation, but I requested he call back,” Upton related.
“Then the whole body popped out about 30 seconds after that.”
Upton said that was a crucial moment. Despite his training, on the inside he had to fight his emotions, trying to remain calm and trying to keep the new mother and father calm as well.
“If I overreact, they might think something is wrong,” he noted.
In an instant, both Upton and the father had to play catcher, doubling up to ensure nothing happened to the baby, with only a towel for protection. Boyd, at this point, is asking both if it’s a boy or girl, and both men had to give a good look to find out. They were both relieved when the baby let out a good cry once outside the womb.
“About five minutes later, EMS shows up with the birthing kit, and then I can breathe and take a step back,” Upton said.
In the ebb and flow of existence, often one life is saved while another one is extinguished. Upton said it’s all part of the job. Shortly after the successful delivery, he was called for an “unattended death” when a resident apparently passed away in a hot tub.
Patrolman Upton and Dispatcher Boyd were both honored by the Burlington County Commissioners during their virtual meeting on Feb. 10, and also received recognition from the county for their performance.