Dave McGowan, the Orioles' former PA announcer, now works… (Photo courtesy of Baltimore…)
The 911 call came in like so many do, a frantic voice that cuts through the night like the wail of a siren.
"My granddaughter has drowned! She's not responding! Please help me!"
Dave McGowan took the call.
Last year at this time, he was the veteran public address announcer at Orioles games at Camden Yards. But now, less than five months on the job at the Prince George's County Emergency Communications Center, he faced this: a frenzied Laurel woman on the line and a 2-year-old with the life ebbing from her after a backyard pool accident.
"Your training kicks in," McGowan said of that recent harrowing night. "You realize that you have to follow the protocols that you've been taught ... and at the same time, you have to calm the person so you can get a valid address of where the incident occurred."
McGowan, 63, was up to the task. He's a former Baltimore City cop who spent five years in the mid-1970s as a patrolman and detective.
"I loved police work," he said Monday.
Only problem was, it didn't pay the bills. Not back then, anyway. So he went back to aviation — he'd been a reconnaissance pilot in Vietnam and had flown military aircraft in Europe. And for 14 years, he was also the voice of the Orioles at Camden Yards.
When a marketing job dried up last year and he was offered the 911 call-taker job, he faced a crisis of conscience: "Do I want to stroke my ego and ... watch baseball games or do I want to work somewhere and help others."
He went with door No. 2, as much as he loved working for the Orioles.
Now on this May night, still technically a trainee, he was handling the most high-stress call of his fledgling 911 career.
Sitting next to him at the console was Ray Delano, a veteran 911 call-taker and McGowan's certified training officer, or CTO. McGowan's supervisor also looked over his shoulder, listening to his end of the conversation and peering at the information as he entered it on his computer screen.
Sounds like a little bit of pressure, I suggested.
"Yeah, it is," McGowan said.
But probably not more than he faced as a recon pilot in Vietnam, where his plane took nearly daily fire from the Viet Cong.
"I was good at finding the bad guys," he said with a chuckle. "And they didn't want to be found."
Now, with the panic-stricken grandmother on the line, he went right to work, first with his voice.
"When I'm talking to people who are agitated, whether it's a shooting or a fire call, I use the same voice I used at the stadium — a calm reassuring voice," he said.
He told the woman he was there to help her, but that he needed her help, too. He asked her to pay attention to what he was saying, and to do what he told her to do.
"We started CPR," he said, referring to cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. "We're doing two quick breaths and 30 (chest) compressions, and continuing to repeat them until the medics come through the door."
The grandmother was still distraught. But she was also focusing on McGowan's instructions and what she had to do.
It was, he says now, "a very intense level of CPR. And just as the medics come through the door, she's yelling: 'She's breathing! She's breathing!' "
I asked McGowan to describe what he felt at that moment, when it seemed as if the crisis was over and he had just helped save a life.
For a second or two, he didn't reply. When he finally did, it was in the aw-shucks tone I've heard over the years from so many cops and firemen and emergency workers, the real heroes of our time.
"I was happy for the granddaughter and for the child, too," McGowan said. "But that's what we're here to do. Any other call-taker could have done what I did."
What the challenging call did for him, more than anything else, was convince him he was in the right line of work.
"I think I'm doing something for the greater good," he said. "It gives me such a sense of fulfillment."
When that little blue light blinks on in your console and it's your turn to take the next 911 call, he says, "you never know what you'll get."
But that grandmother in Laurel got exactly the calm help she needed.