Cop Of The Week

by Paul Bass | August 24, 2006 1:23 PM | | Comments (1)

Officer David Runlett kept a cold wet cloth with him to stay cool on a blistering afternoon of traffic duty. Little did he know that it would help him save the life of an 18 month-old baby.

Runlett was working an extra-duty shift by the cemetery at Grove and York streets around 1:30 p.m. when he noticed a small red car pull to a spot across the street. He heard yelling. The yelling stopped. It started again, louder.

It was Aug. 3, the midst of a heat wave. The heat index was upwards of 105 degrees. Runlett had been trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. He kept dipping a cloth in a cooler, then wrapping it around his neck.

A young woman emerged from the passenger door of the red car. She was the one screaming. She held a baby. The baby had gone limp.

Runlett rushed across the street and grabbed the baby. “As soon as I got there,” the almost-10-year veteran of the force recalled over a lunch of salad and iced tea at Cosi on Elm Street, “she was crying, hysterical. She was talking in Spanish.” Runlett doesn’t know Spanish. He does know first aid; when he worked as a tow operator for AAA, he earned his CPR license, because he wanted to be able to help people he encountered at the scene of accidents. When he arrived at the car, he noticed the baby’s eyes rolling in the back of her head. Her lips were turning blue.

So he grabbed the baby. He needed to lay her down somewhere; he took the cold cloth from his neck and spread it atop the car’s sizzling trunk. He placed the baby on it. He noticed she was conscious and breathing, but barely. She was struggling and about to swallow her tongue. “I started to clear the airway with a finger sweep. You tilt the head back, open the mouth,” then place a finger inside to move the tongue out of the throat.

Next he gave the baby a few breaths of his own, then called for assistance.

As he awaited the emergency crews, he asked the mother to open the car and blast the air conditioning. Then he sat in the front passenger seat, cradled the baby in his arms. He kept wiping her with the cold cloth to lower her body temperature.

What was he thinking at the time? “You really don’t have time to think. If you think, a life can be taken.”

Finally, the baby reacted, coughing, crying. “Your baby’s going to be fine,” one of the other officers arriving on the scene reassured the mother. The baby was taken by ambulance to the hospital, and recovered. Runlett learned later that she’d had a seizure, probably induced by the intense heat.

Last week Runlett received a card from the baby’s mom, Linda Burgos. She wrote that the baby’s name, Lianna, means “God has answered your call.” She thanked Runlett for saving her girl’s life.

Runlett, who’s 41, the cousin, son and nephew of three current and former New Haven cops (including another Independent “Cop of the Week”), shrugged when asked how it feels to be a life-saver.

“I wouldn’t call it saving a life,” he insisted. “I did what anyone else would do, whether you’re a cop or not. I was at the right place at the right time.”

(To read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(To suggest an officer to be featured, click here.)

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Posted by: Barbara | August 25, 2006 11:01 AM

Hi - great article, but just so you know, it's impossible to swallow the tongue - that's a misconception. It's attached to the bottom of the mouth-

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