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Girl, 5, honored for emergency aid when mother fell


When Cindy Nicodemus slipped and hit her head at home three months ago, her 5-year-old daughter, Brittany, knew just -- what to do.

"I didn't look at her, I just ran, grabbed the phone and called 911," said Brittany, a kindergartner at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge. She was honored Friday by the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services for her act.

About 50 kindergartners, friends and parents attended a school ceremony at which rescue officials cited Brittany as an example of why children should be taught how to call for help in an emergency.

"I always say, 'What number do you call in case of an emergency? 911,' " said Sean Kelly, public information officer for the county Fire Department, who frequently speaks at schools. "Now I know that all those years I've been talking to little people, they know what to do."

The incident that led to the award took place one morning about three months ago, when Brittany's mother fell down the stairs at their home in Elkridge while carrying a basket of laundry. Mrs. Nicodemus cut the back of her head as she landed on a stairwell landing, an injury that required five stiches.

Brittany, who was watching a "Barney" movie with her 17-month-old brother and the 15-month-old child of a family friend, heard her mother fall and then saw her lying on the floor.

The kindergartner did what she had been been taught by teachers, parents and by watching the television show "Rescue 911": She got on the phone and called the emergency number.

A 911 operator told Brittany to get towels to place on her mother's head, which she did. Brittany then went back to the phone to report her progress to the dispatcher.

Mrs. Nicodemus, who was drifting in and out of consciousness, told Brittany to open the door for the firefighters who were on their way.

"As soon as I did, I saw an ambulance coming," Brittany recalled.

At Friday's ceremony, Mr. Kelly told the students he was amazed that a child so young remained calm and followed directions.

"Do you think that it's pretty amazing for a 5-year-old to do what Brittany did?" Mr. Kelly asked the 5- and 6-year-olds, who answered in chorus, "Yeah!"

Mr. Kelly said he is working on a program to track how many young children call 911 in emergencies. In the past two weeks, he has given awards to Brittany and to a child at Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia, he said.

"Most little people like this are timid and nervous in these situations, but Brittany was very forthright and took control," he said.

Pamela Cullings, assistant principal at the school, attributed the girl's swift action to the county's fire and safety curriculum, which teaches the importance of dialing 911 and other basic emergency skills.

Kindergarten teachers say they spend 15 to 20 hours during the October -- Fire Prevention Month -- showing videos and teaching students about safety. Children learn "stop, drop and roll" techniques to use in case of fire and learn to follow directions of firefighters and police officers in dangerous situations.

Brittany received a plaque and a brown teddy bear with a red bow around its neck, which bought a wide smile to her face and squeals of delight from her classmates.

Her mother said she will never forget her daughter's actions.

"If she had panicked, she wouldn't have been much help. The whole situation hit here," said Mrs. Nicodemus, indicating her heart.

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