August 28, 2013

Young mother turns over baby to Fort Worth firefighters

It’s the third time this year that a baby has been given up at a “Safe Baby Site” in Tarrant County.

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Typically when the doorbell rings at Fort Worth Fire Station 26, the visitors are seeking directions or a jump-start for their stalled car, or maybe they just want to say “thanks” for some recent help.

On Aug. 21, firefighter Dave Lackey opened the door shortly before lunchtime and found a distraught young woman holding up a baby.

“She just looked at me and said, ‘I need help,’” Lackey said. “I could tell exactly what she meant by that. I knew she was going to leave the baby here by just the look of desperation on her face.”

Lackey guided the woman inside the station at 6124 S. Hulen St., but she was nervous and didn’t want to sit down.

Lackey and fellow firefighters Bryan Wyrick and Scott Lain took the baby from the woman’s arms and into the station’s sleeping quarters. They laid the infant, still dotted with blood, on a bed to check her condition and clean her. Using a supply bag issued to each fire station by Alliance for Children, the firefighters placed a diaper on the dark-haired girl and dressed her in a blue onesie before swaddling her in a white baby blanket decorated with animals.

“You could tell she was just born,” Wyrick said. “We cleaned her up. They had tied her umbilical cord off with a bread twist-tie. She only cried when she got cold. … Once we wrapped her back up, she was fine, went back to sleep.”

As firefighter Asa Keith and engineers Ernest Tilley and Kaleb Kemp began making the necessary notifications, Lt. Shane Burtnett and Capt. Aaron Stewart stayed with the young mother, coaxing from her any information about the baby that she was willing to share.

‘I can’t take care of her’

“We’re not supposed to pry too much. We don’t want her to feel threatened and then decide to leave with the baby,” Burtnett said. “We just were saying, ‘Anything you can give us, obviously we’ll take, for the baby’s sake.’”

The woman told them that she’d given birth at home by herself at 9:30 a.m., a little more than two hours before she showed up at the station. Her family didn’t know she was pregnant. She had no history of medical problems.

“She just said, ‘I need to give you this little girl because I can’t take care of her,’” Burtnett said. “We just assured her, ‘Ma’am, we have a program set up and I promise we can find a family that could certainly give her everything she needs.’”

Within minutes, the woman said she had to go and drove away. MedStar paramedics arrived, placed a hat on the little girl to keep her warm and took her to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Marissa Gonzales, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman, said the 6-pound, 3-ounce girl was released the next day and placed with a family that could choose to adopt her. She said the girl was healthy.

“It’s always wonderful when a parent takes advantage of the Baby Moses Law the way it was intended to be used,” Gonzales said. “It’s the best possible outcome.”

Third local case this year

Under the Baby Moses Law, implemented in September 1999, people can drop off a baby up to 60 days old at a designated place, such as a hospital, a fire station or a police station, with no questions asked and without fear of prosecution.

“We want to get people to leave their babies somewhere safe rather than a Dumpster or bathroom or someplace crazy like that,” said Kim Rocha, prevention specialist and coordinator for the northeast Alliance for Children Center.

Alliance for Children has maintained the Safe Baby Site program in Tarrant County for 10 years.

The girl is the third confirmed Baby Moses case in Tarrant County this year. Gonzales said two other newborns were surrendered at hospitals in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area.

The county had one Baby Moses case in 2012, none in 2011 and one in 2010, Gonzales said.

Texas has had 75 Baby Moses cases since they began being tracked in fiscal 2004, according to Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services. That includes 14 this year, he said.

The eight firefighters at Station 26 — all fathers themselves — were touched by the experience.

“It’s kind of unique, exciting and kind of sad at the same time,” Burtnett said. “It’s sweet and bitter. When you step back and look at the big picture, the program ultimately worked and the little girl will have a family that will probably spoil her, no different than most little girls.”

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