14 Years Later, Dispatcher that Guided Baby's Delivery Remains Friends with Family
In the early morning hours of July 5, 2008, a life-changing call was made to the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Emergency Dispatch Center. Hattie Strickland, at the time a senior dispatcher, answered the call. Sheila Conrad (Garcia) was on her bathroom floor in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Tampa, on the verge of giving birth to her second son. Though her baby wasn't due for another week, he refused to wait and was ready to make his grand entrance.
In a calm voice and using clear directions, Hattie verbally guided the baby's father through the delivery, step by step. Within minutes of Hattie answering Sheila's call, the cries of a new baby were heard. To everyone's relief, Sheila had given birth to little Taylor without any complications.
"It all happened so quickly. Hattie asked us if we had anything to keep the baby warm with. She had suggested that we warm a towel in the dryer and use that to wrap Taylor in," Sheila said when recalling how helpful Hattie was.
Taylor weighed exactly 8 pounds and was in perfect health. Only a few moments after Taylor's birth, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived. Paramedics from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue followed minutes later and cut Taylor's umbilical cord. Though Sheila and Taylor were in great condition, both she and the baby were transported to a nearby hospital for routine treatment.
After Sheila and Taylor were released from the hospital, the whole family went to visit Hattie at work. Hattie was honored to meet in person the family she had coached through delivery. One of the highpoints in her career was holding Taylor and knowing that she had played such a special part in his birth.
That week in July was one for the books. Not only was there the Fourth of July holiday, which entailed the usual influx of fireworks-related calls, but a total of three babies were delivered by phone through the County's Emergency Dispatch Center.
Every year, the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Emergency Dispatch Center assists with delivering a handful of babies. A bulletin board in the call center keeps a running tally of children born into the "9-1-1 Stork Club." In 2022 alone, dispatchers helped callers across Hillsborough County deliver five babies.
Now, 14 years later, Sheila and Taylor remain close friends with Hattie. Almost every year, they enjoy local outings together, picking tomatoes or other seasonal vegetables. At Sheila's invitation, Hattie presented at Taylor's elementary school for a Great American Teach-In event in 2016.
Hattie still speaks fondly of that memorable call from 2008. Though she had helped deliver three other babies in addition to Taylor, the relationship she formed with Sheila was unique. Since then, Hattie has progressed in her 17-year career with the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Emergency Dispatch Center and now serves as the senior program coordinator. She is responsible for training new dispatchers and ensuring that they successfully complete their 6-week training academy and necessary certifications.
When asked what qualities make for a good emergency dispatcher, Hattie said it takes "patience, professionalism, and the ability to perform - and perhaps - thrive under pressure."
The work that emergency dispatchers perform can be stressful at times. However, the important service they provide to callers is often lifesaving and lifechanging. When reflecting on her profession, Hattie conveyed a sincere fulfillment in her job. "When the call center gets busy, you can feel the energy in the room rise. Seeing the dispatchers rise with that energy - and rise to the occasion - is really satisfying."
If you are interested in becoming an emergency dispatcher, or any other career in public service, visit Hillsborough County's jobs page for information and resources.