Acting Waco Fire Department Lt. Phillip Burnett was left speechless when the mother of a newborn baby girl walked into Fire Station 11 Tuesday evening, asking firefighters to take custody of her 3-day-old daughter.
“We had just finished up our supper at about 6:20 p.m. and she knocked on the door and we met her in the kitchen,” said Burnett, a 12-year fire department veteran. “She just said that she just needed to drop the baby off, basically. I think we were all taken aback at first.”
The mother told firefighters that she had given birth to the baby at home, was unable to care for the newborn and voluntarily wanted to give up her rights to the child under the “Baby Moses,” or Safe Haven law. Under the 18-year-old law, a parent of an infant younger than 61 days old can relinquish rights to a child at an emergency infant care facility or designated safe place without fear of prosecution.
Burnett said this is the first time a baby has been relinquished at a Waco fire station in his tenure. He said other firefighters could not remember another infant left at a Waco fire station. But the firefighters’ focus was on the health and well-being of the child and mother.
‘One of our youngest’
“We talked with her and made sure that she didn’t need medical attention either, but she said she was fine,” Burnett said. “In our job, it is our mission to take care of the oldest citizen down to the youngest, so we knew we would definitely be taking care of one of our youngest that night.”
Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said the woman told firefighters that she did not know she was pregnant before the child’s birth. She said she had other children at home and brought a diaper bag with supplies for the baby, but she believed she could not properly care for the infant.
“I’ve been told this is the first child who has been taken to a fire station under the Baby Moses law (in Waco),” Tatum said. “The mom left minimal information, but we are very grateful that she left the baby at a safe place, because you always hear about situations about a baby being left in a Dumpster or in a dangerous situation.”
When the woman left the fire station, police and emergency medical professionals were called to retrieve the child. The baby was taken to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center for medical evaluation.
Texas became the first state to enact safe haven laws in 1999, allowing a parent to bring an infant 60 days old or younger to a designated safe place, including a hospital, freestanding emergency medical care facility, fire station, or emergency medical services station. Officials will take temporary custody of the child and the parent’s identity will remain confidential, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
“Baby Moses is an absolutely wonderful law and has saved dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of lives of infants that might have otherwise been discarded,” Crimmins said. “One of the things it does is it gives parents a safe place to take their child and they can have the assurance that their child will be taken care of as long as the child does not have signs of abuse or tests positive for drugs, which would then be a criminal offense.”
Former Gov. George W. Bush signed the country’s first newborn abandonment bill into law in 1999 after state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, filed the house bill in the 76th Legislative Session. Morrison hoped to provide a responsible alternative to newborn abandonment before the bill gained unanimous approval in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate.
In Texas, a total of 11 children under 61 days old have been turned over to emergency infant care facilities in fiscal year 2017. In Region 7, including Austin and Waco, only one child has been turned over to an emergency infant care facility, excluding the baby who was relinquished Tuesday.
Cummins said the baby relinquished Tuesday is possibly the first baby to ever be left at any safe place in Waco.
All 50 states now have safe haven laws on the books that vary with age limits, the person who can surrender a child and the circumstances around the incident. In most states, parents have the ability to leave infant children at predesignated safe places without disclosing their identities or answering any questions other than those regarding the baby’s medical requirements.
Waco police spokesman W. Patrick Swanton commended the mother for turning her baby over to the firefighters if she didn’t believe she could care for the infant, though he acknowledged the difficulty of such a decision.
“I can’t imagine the pain of having to do that, but the woman did the right thing and the baby is safe,” Swanton said. “The baby will be well taken care of and we give kudos (to) the mom for doing the right thing.”