Happy Birthday, It’s a Girl!
By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko
It was during the early morning of my birthday during the spring of 2005 that I found myself working midnights in the Patrol Division. At that point, the nearly two year old oddity and fall from grace which landed me back in Patrol at that time was both sudden as it was unremarkable yet predictable. It was also somewhat perplexing to me at the time that it happened. By the time that spring had arrived I had more or less made peace with the fact that I would most probably spend the rest of what was left of my career pushing a black and white around town. I had no problem with that in principle. I was not the kind of cop that thought I was too good to work Patrol, however I came to know many cops who had been removed from specialty divisions for whatever reason who really did feel they were above working Patrol and would do almost anything to either get out of Patrol or, once out, remain out of Patrol. In the end, by the middle of 2003, after almost six mostly great years in the Domestic Violence Unit, I finally demanded to be transferred back to Patrol. Looking back on that tumultuous time, tumultuous as far as my career was concerned, it was most likely the goal of the multiple bosses I answered to that I finally raise the white flag and gave it up. If that was what they wanted, they finally succeeded by May of 2003.
Within the Patrol Division, we bid for shifts during shift change which occurred every four months. After a long hard fought battle by our Patrolman’s Union, we finally got the Chief to agree to assign Patrol shifts by seniority, which the administration had fought against, long and hard. Prior to Shift by Seniority, shift assignments were used to reward cops that the administration wanted to take care of, and it was also used to punish whichever cops they had a case of the ass for, often times due to no fault of the cop him or herself. I had seen it so often. However, by the time I landed back in Uniform Patrol I had enough seniority to choose whichever shift I wanted. So, since I was angry, I decided “screw them” I was going to work Day Shift from September though April. After working from 6PM to 230 AM for almost six years, which pretty much guarantied my family life would always be second behind work, I thought it was time to give my wife and family a break. I figured I’d be home most nights, I’d be able to actually assist my wife with bringing up our kids for a change. But, I still had the bug, and despite the fact that working day shift returned me to a bit of normalcy in life (aside of the fact that I would still work weekends and holidays) I missed being out on the street after dark. So, for those couple of years I was back in Patrol, each May though August shift, I chose to work midnights. I loved being on the street over night. It was a love I developed many years before when I drove a taxi in Boston. I loved being part of the nightlife back then, and I still craved that nocturnal thrill, especially in police work.
For the one and only time in my police career, the shift commander in May of 2004, offered me my choice of assignments on midnights that summer. He said I was a hard working cop, and he thought I deserved to select my assignment. Without hesitation, I told him I wanted sector car 1-4. This car covered downtown, much of the Millyard that abutted the Merrimack River and a slice of the inner-city neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Manchester. It was a busy car, and the surrounding route cars were also busy. The shift commander who was a captain that I held in high esteem, was surprised I asked for that assignment. He was ready to assign me to a quiet car in the outlying part of the city, or even an inside assignment working for him at the station, if I so desired. No way, I was a working cop, and I wanted to work, even after 16 years on the job. So, I got what I asked for and had a great summer.
Midnight shifts that year started out busy most nights, and stayed busy until all the night clubs downtown plus the dive bars in and near that sector (I always called them local stab and jabs) around the city closed, and even then it didn’t quiet down most nights until the few all night greasy spoons around the city emptied out and the drunks headed off to home with full bellies or to wherever it was that they retreated before the sun came up. It was at that point, sometime between 3 and 4 AM, when dispatch started giving us calls that had been hanging from the 4-12 shift, all low priority past-tense calls for service. Things like past tense thefts, neighbor disputes and loud party calls were low priority during those busy evenings. We didn’t ingratiate ourselves any with those callers who had called at 10 or 11 the previous night and we came knocking at their door at 3:30 or 4AM, long after the problem they called for was resolved and they had gone to sleep. The steady stream of more serious “in progress” calls usually kept the 3-11:30 PM shifts from getting to those less urgent calls for service before the Midnight shifts came on duty. A regular routine developed for me on those busy nights. The only exception would be if I caught a particularly hot call out of the barn, like a shooting, stabbing, arrest at the first call or a serious car collision. In those cases, I’d be tied up for the busier part of the shift.
Not every night was like this, but by the summer of 2004, I found there were more nights like this than not. In the early 90s, we had two of three busy midnight shifts a week. By 2004, it was the opposite, depending on what part of the city you were working. And, when we did have a quiet midnight shift, I got to the point where I actually appreciated it. So, many mornings after the radio calls slowed down, I would go inside around 4 or 4:30 AM and catch up with the reports and paperwork I had accrued, at least up until that point. Sometime around 6 AM, if I was clear, I would head over to one of the better downtown hotels and hang out there and complete my Daily Shift Report. I’d just chat with whomever was around the lobby. They usually had coffee in the lobby for whomever, and most hotel personnel liked having the police presence. Often, I was able to talk with the flight crews that were up and checking out of the hotels for their morning flights out of Manchester Airport. I really got into a good groove working those midnights during the summer, and as busy as it got, I think I handled the grind pretty well and actually enjoyed it to the point that when September came, and it was time to switch to days, I was always just a bit regretful. However some of that passed after I started enjoying a bit of a normal life with my family. There would always be next May.
In the spring of 2005, I was still a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. The insurgency in Iraq was starting to heat up. My unit hadn’t been called up for Iraq or Afghanistan and I became both tired and embarrassed watching soldiers I trained go off to war and return (some of them wounded in combat) while I occupied a rather safe slot in the Guard at home. I was a career infantryman, albeit a mostly weekend warrior, but I felt I had something to prove to myself. So, when the US Army sent out an RFF (Request for Forces) for a certain mission in Iraq, after talking it over with my wife, who supported me (which I know was very difficult for her) I decided to volunteer for it. When I told my brother about it, he told me that I wasn’t going anywhere without him. That was the kind of relationship we had with each other since my childhood. My brother was also a Manchester cop at the time, and a member of the Army’s IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve). 16 years earlier I had followed him to MPD and now he was determined to follow and accompany me into combat.
After going through all the bureaucratic minutia, and believe me there was plenty, I got my orders for active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, first stop for me being Ft. Carson, Colorado. By the time my birthday had arrived, I was finishing off my last week or two at the PD, and getting ready to take military leave from the department.
On a Saturday night in May, the night before my birthday, I reported to early roll call at 11PM. We had two midnight shifts then one at 11 PM and a second that went out at 1130 PM. I had a downtown car that night, and at midnight it became my birthday. I didn’t’t think much about it at the time, I was just doing another midnight shift. I was looking forward to my day off the next morning and night because my wife always did something special for me for my birthday, so as always, I had that to look forward to.
I don’t remember anything specific about that night, although the night was pretty steady with calls until after the bars let out and the drunks finished eating at whatever places were still open. Eventually it got light, and quiet as did most (but not all) early Sunday mornings.
I remember joking early in my career after working midnights that the reason most Sunday mornings seemed so peaceful when just an hour or two earlier mayhem was occurring throughout the city was that most people were either sleeping it off at home, in the hospital or in jail. Only the folks headed to church were stirring or early risers who could be found sweeping the sidewalks off in front of their homes were up and out. This Sunday morning was no different.
I believe that it was sometime around 6:30 when I was sent to a call for an unknown medical problem. I don’t recall the exact address I was sent to, so for purposes of this story I’ll use a fictional address, that being 22 Skye St. which was just north of downtown. The address sounded a bit strange to me. Didn’t sound quite right. That section of Skye St. was a mostly residential area with multiple old wooden three and six family apartment buildings. It was a neighborhood I got to know quite well because we were often responding to that area for various calls for service. But, I didn’t recall a 22 Skye St. I was also told that EMS was on the way. So, I grabbed my mike, copied the call, repeating the address in case the dispatcher made a mistake, and they reconfirmed it. I then jotted it and the time onto my notebook, and headed over. There was no need for either blue lights or siren on this peaceful spring morning.
I did find 22 Skye Street. The reason I didn’t recognize the number when I was first given the call was that 22 Skye St. turned out to be a small law office squeezed rather innocuously between two large tenement buildings. I had never been to that building, so the number 22 didn’t stick out in my memory. I called off at the scene and found the building to be, not surprisingly, dark and locked. The surrounding area was also quiet and no one was around. I informed dispatch of what I had found and asked them if they had any further information on the caller or where the caller may be. They said they had nothing further so I told them to cancel EMS since they hadn’t arrived yet. I cleared the call as “unfounded”.
I got back into my cruiser, and as I made my notes on the call, it occurred to me that there was a 22 WEST Skye St. I was very familiar with that location. 22 West Skye Street was close to 22 Skye Street. West Skye Street was the portion of Skye Street that continued west on the other side of Elm St. 22 West Sky St. This was a four story apartment building, kind of a long , narrow old wooden type of tenement that was probably built to house workers from the nearby mill yard early in the 1900s. This building was usually occupied by the most recent wave of refugees that had been brought and settled in Manchester. Manchester had been designated a destination city by the Federal Government for political refugees for sometime and this contributed to the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity that made up Manchester. In the early 90s one could find many Asian families living in this building. Later, as different wars raged at different places around the world, the newest groups of settled refugees reflected those conflicts. After the influx of Asian refugees, the building was often filled with families from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and that part of the world where “Ethnic Cleansing” and other war crimes were being committed. Over the years I had the occasion to respond to that building for various problems and issues which often arose among people new to our country and our ways. I also knew that at that time in 2005, the residents were mostly refugees from various parts of Africa.
I thought, since the call was supposed to be for an unknown medical problem, I’d go over and check out 22 West Skye St., just to be on the safe side. Besides, there was nothing else going on that quiet Sunday morning and I still had about 45 minutes left on my shift.
I let dispatch know that I was going to check 22 West Skye St. I pulled up to the east side of the building, and much to my surprise I found the main door to be open and unlocked. Once I entered the building I realized I was looking for a needle in a hay stack. However, I just decided to walk the corridors to see if I could detect something out of the ordinary. As soon as I entered the hallway, my senses were overcome by various acrid and unpleasant odors. The smells were familiar to me, and they emanated from a mixture of garbage bags left in the common hall in front of individual apartments. Also, many residents were up and cooking, and the not so familiar culinary odors from whatever they were cooking inside didn’t mix to well with the garbage smell and just general stale odors that flow from common areas that aren’t kept especially clean. I walked each corridor, going upstairs, one floor at a time without coming across anything unusual. I had pretty much given up on finding anything until I was half way up the stairwell to the top floor. As I approached the door to that hallway, I could hear some type of a disturbance, although it was muffled. I stopped at the door to the hallway to try to listen and figure out what I was walking into, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
I entered the hallway, and when I did I saw several young kids running in and out of an apartment in an excited way. When they saw me, they ran towards me and grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the apartment. None of them spoke English, and eventually I found out that everyone I was dealing with were from Somalia. I told dispatch that I was checking out a disturbance on the fourth floor, and they asked if I wanted a unit for back up. The old salty cop that I was, I told them no, (probably a tactical mistake, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something that was probably more drama than trauma) so I told them I’d let them know once I figured out what was happening.
When I entered the rather bare apartment (there wasn’t not much in the way of furnishings) I observed at least a dozen youngsters running around in a tizzy, along with three very agitated female adults. To make matters even more confusing, they were all yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand. Finally, they led me to a room, and in the room I found what I thought was a young teenage girl laying under a blanket on top of a mat which was on the floor. To start with, in order to regain some semblance of sanity, I was able convince one of the adults at the scene to take all the kids out of the apartment, and amazingly she did exactly that. So, now at least I have a somewhat calmer scene, although the other women in the apartment continued to shriek at me and point to the woman lying on the mat. There were no beds in the apartment that I could see, and I have no idea to this day who or how many people were living in that rather sparse dwelling.
I knelt by the girl laying on the mat, and it was obvious that she was in pain and very scared. She did not speak English so that was a problem. Finally, I decided to remove the blanket that covered the young woman. What I saw was a girl I estimated to be about 15 years old, naked from the waist down, and imagine my surprise when I saw the head of an infant baby crowning from her vagina! Now, I had been present during the birth of all three of my kids, and had some rudimentary First Responder training for delivering a baby, but this sight astounded me. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. But, being the veteran cop I was at the time, I immediately shook that feeling off, knowing I had to act at once, without making the situation any worse.
First thing I did was get on the radio and advise them of the situation and pleaded to them to send EMS, and I told them to have them step on it! In the meantime, the baby was coming. Somehow I was able to get the women present to get some clean towels and sheets, water as well. As the minutes ticked by, I realized that I may have to actually deliver this baby. This, was a first for me! In the old days, cops routinely delivered babies. But now, with sophisticated EMS systems in place, it was rare that a cop found him or herself in that position.
I learned a long time ago that outward calmness and confidence was infectious and somehow I succeeded in calming everyone present. Now they were all looking to me to make everything OK. I can only imagine what they were thinking. I got back down on my knees and continued to try calming the new mother and reassure her. As I did, the baby’s head slowly, bit by bit came forth. I was careful and ready to grab the baby’s head as it came out, with what I hoped was a clean towel, but it was a slow process and I wasn’t going to push or force it. I tried to encourage the mother, despite the fact that I knew she didn’t understand a damned thing I was saying. Sometimes, somethings, like body language and bearing are in themselves a universal language.
At one point, dispatch called me and asked for my location because the fire department had arrived on the scene and they couldn’t find anything or anyone. I was a bit appalled, repeated where I was, and said the baby is coming. I was then advised that both the Fire Department and EMS were at 22 Skye Street! By this time, I was trying to protect the newborn’s head with one hand and talk on my radio with the other. “Stay Calm”I had to tell myself, and I slowly repeated, without a single obscenity, where I was and pled with them to tell FD to hurry.
After what seemed like an eternity, several firefighters entered the apartment along with two paramedics. The baby still hadn’t completely emerged, but it’s head had mostly appeared, and I wasn’t about to do anything except to try to calm the mother and protect the head and wait to grab the rest of the new baby and protect it.
Thankfully for all concerned the paramedics took over. I got out of the way and let them handle the baby. I backed away, relieved and exhausted. The medical folks were finally on scene. After a short time, they rushed mother and baby to the Elliot Hospital. I led the ambulance with blue lights and siren wailing, and into the emergency room we all went. Even thought my shift was over, I waited around in the hospital to learn of the outcome. I was still a bit shaky, and the adrenaline rush was subsiding and I found myself experiencing a kind of an energy drain so I sat down.
After a short time, a nurse came out and told me that the woman had given birth to a healthy eight pound girl. I also learned that the mother was twenty-six years old, not fifteen like I first guessed. The nurse then congratulated me telling me I earned an official “assist” in the delivery of the baby, whatever that meant. In the end, I think my entry for my daily report was simply that I assisted EMS with the delivery of a baby. Exhausted after a long midnight shift, I headed back to the station. I still had a report to write. Everyone else from the midnight shift was long gone, and only the day shift bosses were around. I turned in a card for my overtime, (the call caused me to work a couple of extra hours) and the supervisor that morning looked at me suspiciously as though I was trying to put something over on him. Finally, after questioning me, appearing reluctant, he signed off on it without further comment. Maybe I was overtired, but his attitude went right up my ass. This just reaffirmed how much the worm had turned for me. When I was working in the Domestic Violence Unit, I was allowed to determine, on my own, when I would stay late on a case and when not to.The bosses up there never questioned me when I did. Now, back in Patrol things were very different. The boss here was treating like I was new on the job, yet I had more time on the job than he did. Regardless, I was tired, and finally headed home. I got there around 10 AM and I plopped on the couch. As tired as I was, I was too wound up to sleep.
I was actually pretty ecstatic about the new baby, even more so that this young lady was born on my birthday. It really did make that birthday very special for me. Eventually, I told my wife the story and she prepared a wonderful birthday / hero breakfast for me. I thought a lot about what may have happened if I had just cleared the call at 22 Skye St. and not gone to follow up at 22 West Skye St. I suppose it still would have turned out OK. If it had been a busier night, I may not have done that. However, I learned early on to follow my instincts, and doing so paid off for sure that morning.
A few days later, the Day Shift commander approached me and told me how grateful he was that I took the extra step to go to 22 West Skye St. and found that family. He told me that he hated to think of what may have happened had I not done so. In a profession when pats on the back are rare and formal recognition even more so, I was happy that Captain Tracey sought me out and congratulated me, especially since I didn’t even work for at the time.
About a week later, my son, who was and still is a Manchester Firefighter, told me that an FD Lieutenant who was apparently at the scene told him about the incident. He told Tim that his old man (meaning me) was calm, cool and dealt with a crazy situation and did a really good job. I didn’t say a lot to Tim when he told me that, but deep down inside, I was satisfied and proud that someone at the Fire Department told my son about what I good job I did.
I never came to know whatever happened to that newborn and her family, nor did I ever learn what her name was. I sincerely hope that today she is a healthy 16 year old high school student, and her family has prospered and found a peaceful, safe and rewarding life here in the United States. I like to think my presence there that morning made a difference to that family. As for me, I can truthfully boast that I once assisted in the delivery of a baby on the job. Or, if I brag that I once delivered a baby, I’d only be exaggerating a little bit. My birthday that year turned out to be a very special one. Not long after that, I put away my blue uniform for the next year, replaced it with an OD green uniform, and headed to Fort Carson, which was the first step in a journey that I was fortunate to return intact from. But, before I left, I had the opportunity to do something meaningful, and I still smile about it to this day.