FOREST HILL -- You could hear the quaver in the 5-year-old's tiny voice as she called Harford County's 911 emergency number. "Umm, my daddy can't breathe," she said.
"What's the address?" dispatcher Sherman Kirk asked calmly. "I don't know," Nicole Ferandes answered. He tried again and got the same answer. In the background, Nicole's 3-year-old brother, Drew, was sobbing uncontrollably.
Their father, Gary W. Ferandes, had gone into insulin shock and was unconcious on a chair in the living room, a snowball of sky-blue ice clutched in his right hand. Drew had pulled on his hair, but couldn't wake him. Nicole shook him by the shoulder, but got no response.
Their mother, Vicki Ferandes, was at work, marketing Discovery Toys at a craft fair at Tollgate Mall in Bel Air. It was up to Nicole. Just as she had been drilled over and over, she went to the phone and dialed the emergency number.
But now, she was fumbling with the address. "You mean the road?" she can be heard asking on the tape recording of the call. Reassured again, she recited the address. "He can't talk," she said, her voice straining. "He can't even talk."
An ambulance crew was there in minutes, expecting a cardiac arrest patient, Mr. Kirk said. They started an intravenous glucose drip, and soon Mr. Ferandes regained consciousness. He was taken to Harford Memorial Hospital in Bel Air for several hours, then returned home about midnight.
That was Saturday night. Yesterday afternoon, Nicole bounced into the living room proud and happy to tell her story again. She wore a plastic sheriff's star pinned to her white, knit shirt and proudly displayed a poster from her teacher and afternoon kindergarten class at Forest Hills Elementary School.
"We are proud of you Nicole," the yellow poster declared in red letters. "Love, Mrs. Cooper and all the children."
"I was in the tub and I said, 'Daddy, come and get me,'" Nicole recounted brightly. "But I didn't hear a word out of him."
When she gave the dispatcher the address, he told her she was doing fine, she recalled, "and then he hanged up on me." She grinned. On the tape the dispatcher can be heard telling her, "You're doing fine, we'll have the Fire Department there real fast" before hanging up.
Mr. Ferandes was diagnosed as diabetic eight years ago, he said. Since then, he has taken insulin shots twice a day and watched his diet. But occasionally, usually when he doesn't eat enough or overdoes exercise, his blood sugar drops precipitously, and he must eat fruit or drink juice to avoid going into shock.
Nicole's parents have made sure she understands her father's illness and what she must do in the event of an emergency, Mrs. Ferandes said.
"We had been watching the television show, 'Rescue, 911,' " she recalled. "And we told Nicole if anything ever happens here, if anything happens to daddy, you call 911."
They showed her the numbers on the phone and used every opportunity to reinforce the lessons, Mrs. Ferandes said. They let her dial her friends' phone numbers and her grandparents' for practice. Saturday night, it paid off.
While Mrs. Ferandes worked at the craft fair, Mr. Ferandes took the children to get snowballs at a shop near Rock Springs Shopping Center on Route 24. Nicole and her daddy had sky-blue, Drew had bubble-gum.
When they got home, Mr. Ferandes began drawing a bath for Nicole, then went to play with Drew. "I turned on the TV, grabbed the snowball and sat down and that's the last I remember."
When her father didn't answer her, Nicole dried off and came out to the living room. "And I hadda use a yucky towel," she joked.
She proudly showed a visitor how she reached the phone in the kitchen and how Drew got in the act. "Now we have to start teaching him," Mrs. Ferandes said as the 3-year-old pushed buttons at random.