Dispatcher is a Hometown Hero


July 12, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST FALL was an unsettling time in southern Howard County, to say the least. While residents were reeling, along with the rest of the nation, from the shock of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, another unthinkable event rocked our community less than two weeks later -- a tornado ripped through the region, leaving a path of destruction through North Laurel and Savage.

What residents might not know is that the prompt and efficient response of emergency services that day was orchestrated by a man tucked away in a windowless basement room in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Larry Gamber, an emergency dispatcher for the communications division of the Howard County Police Department, calmly fielded the 911 calls from southern Howard County residents Sept. 24 and organized the response amid the chaos.

His exemplary performance during the tornado -- and also during a southern Howard emergency earlier in the month, when a fire broke out at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory -- helped earn Gamber the title of Hometown Hero from the Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross.

He was honored last month at the Hometown Heroes Awards Breakfast in Baltimore, where Redskins assistant coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was the keynote speaker.

"It was clear to us that this guy was steady and maintained his focus," said Eugene Williams, a board member of the Red Cross and chairman of the Hometown Heroes Breakfast committee. "His nomination came through loud and clear."

A review committee fielded nominations in 11 categories. Gamber won the Emergency Dispatch award based on a nomination submitted by Lt. John McKissick, commander of the communication division of the county Police Department.

"He's a steady performer who's completely reliable and very calm," McKissick said of Gamber, of Fairfield, Pa.

McKissick said that during the tornado, which left two dead in College Park and destroyed about 30 townhouses in southern Howard, Gamber was faced with the challenge of finding additional emergency services in the area that were not busy coping with the destruction in their counties.

"It had to be done without the usual mutual aid support," McKissick said. "In this situation, [Prince George's County] was also maxed."

It was Gamber's clear-headed thinking and ability to organize available services that allowed for an efficient emergency response.

"Larry managed to sift through the information and prioritize it, almost like a triage," McKissick said. "Larry handled the situation calmly and professionally."

Gamber's calm yet decisive demeanor also was apparent Sept. 9, when he took the call about a fire in one of the laboratories at APL.

"He paid close attention to the situation, due to the potential of hazardous materials," McKissick said. "Afterwards, one of the fire captains on the scene called to say what a great job Larry did. That's typical of Larry's work."

McKissick is impressed not only with Gamber's performance, but also with his stamina -- he has been an emergency dispatcher for 28 years. "It's a tough, tough, tough job," McKissick said. "Larry has a great attitude, always a positive attitude.

"Larry is definitely at the top of his game."

At the li-beary

Bears are the theme at next week's sign-language story time at the Savage library.

Kathy Ponger of Savage will interpret bear stories and bear craft instructions, using American Sign Language, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The 30-minute program is open to children ages 2 through 5, with an adult.

Information and registration: 410-880-5978.

Historical society

Residents of Savage are invited to share their memories at this month's meeting of the Savage Historical Society. The group will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Faith and Ministry Center, 9032 Baltimore St.

Use the Foundry Street entrance.

Information: 301-725-7630.

Parting words

Like kids today, lifelong Savage resident Corrinne Arnold grew up swimming and playing on waterslides and swings. But her summer amusement did not require a pool pass or a ticket to the water park -- just an old pair of river shoes.

Arnold, 37, grew up in a house on the Little Patuxent River, where she lives today. Her swings were vines, her slides were boulders, and she shared the water with friends, ducklings and any other aquatic wildlife.

"When you grow up on the river, you don't need a pool," Arnold said. "We had everything right here."

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