Big day for tiny hero

A school turns out to honor first-grader Siara Ford for saving her grandmother's life.

By Casey Cora, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

TAMPA - Siara Ford saw a hero's welcome on Friday, with about 80 of her classmates exploding in applause as the first-grader was escorted to school by a whooping Sheriff's Office motorcycle.

"It's not every day we get to be in the presence of a real hero," Hillsborough County sheriff's Capt. Robert Bullara told the crowd at Mendenhall Elementary School.

Siara, 6, called 911 after her grandmother, Carol Barlow, didn't wake up from an early afternoon nap on Saturday. The girl is credited with being the area's youngest 911 caller to ever save a life.

"My nana's on the bed and she won't answer me," Siara tells dispatcher Tesha Larese. "She just told me she was going to eat, she was going to go to sleep and then wake her up at 11:30. Then I did, I tried to show her my power thing and she all did was just sit, sit there and sleep."

Larese, coordinating the emergency response, tried to keep the girl calm.

"Uh-huh, well that's good. Maybe she's just not feeling well."

Earlier that day, the two were supposed to bake a pan of sugar cookies. But Barlow, 49, fell into a diabetic coma and couldn't be awakened. Siara, who had been visiting for the weekend, saw her grandmother drooling and "making funny faces" that made her cry.

"And when I ask her a question, she just doesn't say anything."

Larese: "Yeah, maybe she's just not feeling well. You did good calling."

Over the next 25 minutes, Larese, an 11-year veteran of the sheriff's communications center, guides Siara with a series of questions about the W Waters Avenue apartment complex that eventually leads emergency workers and paramedics to her grandmother's place.

Ford had questions, too: Are they going to give her shots at the hospital? How do doctors at the hospital make the people that are sick wake up?

Paramedics would later tell Barlow she could have died without her granddaughter's help.

"I don't remember what happened," Barlow said today. "She just did what she had to do."

On Friday, Siara was picked up from home in a special Sheriff's Office Volkswagen Beetle. When the Beetle arrived behind the motorcycle escort at the school, her classmates clapped wildly.

Her teachers called her a "star student." Her parents beamed with pride.

"Absolutely unbelievable," said Ronald Ford, 30, watching camera crews surround his daughter.

And her grandmother planned a party for today Saturday. She's making sugar cookies.

Casey Cora can be reached at ccora@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.