[Vision2020] Newborn left at Spokane fire station under safe-haven law

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Wed Feb 3 03:12:29 PST 2016

Courtesy of today's (February 3, 2016) Spokesman-Review.

Newborn left at Spokane fire station under safe-haven law
The baby girl was just a few hours old when her mother brought her to Spokane Fire Department Station 8.

The woman, in her late 20s, had given birth at home Monday morning, she told firefighters. A friend tied the umbilical cord. With five other children, the woman didn’t think she could take care of the baby, so she handed her off to the firefighters Monday afternoon.

“It was pretty smooth,” said fire Lt. Dan Awbery, who was on shift at the station.

It’s the first time Brian Schaeffer, the city’s assistant fire chief, can recall someone using Washington’s safe-haven law to leave a baby at a Spokane fire station. The law, passed in 2002, allows a parent to leave a newborn who’s less than 3 days old with staff at a hospital or fire station, no questions asked. 

Parents are asked to anonymously share information about family medical history but are not required to do so. Unless the child has been abused, the parent won’t face criminal charges.

“It’s their decision fully and it’s probably saving a life,” Schaeffer said.

Safe-haven laws are meant to stop people from abandoning their babies in trash bins or leaving them outside in cold weather, but poor awareness of the law means it doesn’t always work as intended. Yakima firefighters had a baby dropped on their doorstep early Christmas Eve morning last year. They estimated she’d been left out in the cold for an hour before she was found and taken to the hospital.

Other cases have had less happy outcomes. In 2014, a newborn baby girl was found dead after she was abandoned in the woods near Snoqualmie, Washington. On Dec. 31, a Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office deputy found a dead baby girl in a diaper bag on the side of the road; Idaho has had a safe-haven law since 2001.

Though it’s not a common occurrence, Schaeffer said, “we’ve responded to calls where fetuses have been abandoned that were alive.”

The baby girl dropped off Monday was in good health and was taken to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for evaluation, Schaeffer said. He said he wished firefighters had been able to spend more time making sure the woman was well taken care of.

“She was able to drop it off, but we weren’t really able to evaluate her. How are you feeling? Do you have a plan in place?” he said.

A hospital spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on the baby’s case due to privacy. Washington’s safe-haven law says Child Protective Services assumes custody of any surrendered newborn within 24 hours.

The fire department wrote a policy for handling abandoned newborns and other children in 2012 and keeps a bag at fire stations with newborn-size diapers, Pedialyte and other supplies. 

“If we didn’t have a check box, a policy for it, we probably would have been scrambling,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer said he never expected to see the law used at a fire station, especially an out-of-the-way location near Spokane Community College. He’s planning to add training on the safe-haven law to ongoing education programs for department paramedics and EMTs, including more training on neonatal health and resuscitation. 


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares"
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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