CHICAGO -- Chicago Fire Lt. Ed Stutz had just started his shift at Engine 107 on the West Side Monday morning when he looked out a window and saw a young woman clutching a baby.
He heard a light tap on the door of the station. The woman was standing there and seemed upset. Stutz and firefighter Ryan Rivera took her into the station, where she handed the baby, tightly bundled in a brown winter suit, to the firefighters.
"She said she couldn't handle it anymore and that it was too much for her," Stutz said.
The woman told Stutz and Rivera she was 19 and wanted someone to take care of her child, a boy she said was 6 months old. After about 15 minutes, she left the station as an ambulance took her son to a hospital for a checkup.
"I asked her a few times, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Stutz said. "She seemed to know what she was doing. It was a conscious decision."
Stutz said he couldn't help thinking about his own family, his wife with his children when they were infants. "That must be the last thing she would have been doing, giving up the baby," he said. "But we don't know the circumstances."
All Chicago firefighters are trained in the state's Safe Haven law, which allows parents to drop off infants less than 30-days-old at police stations, firehouses and hospitals without questions.
This child was older, but police said that the woman wouldn't necessarily be charged with a crime for abandoning her baby. If she is found, police will work with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, looking into her background to try to find why she left the infant at the station.
"You really have to see, is there any purpose in arresting her?" a police source involved in the case said.
Stutz and Rivera said the woman had a baby bag with her and that the baby appeared healthy and well cared for -- doctors at Stroger Hospital later found him to be in excellent condition, police said.
"It wasn't as though she was ready to go just drop the baby off and go," Rivera said. "Obviously a lot of preparation went into this. It must of been tough for her to come tell us this."
The woman did not give her name, and at first wouldn't give the baby's name. She later told paramedics the boy's first name, which officials were not releasing.
Stutz said the woman spoke with him and Rivera for about 15 minutes as Rivera held the baby. She kept looking down and did not seem like she was ready to leave the station, said Rivera.
"She was overwhelmed, she had tears in her eyes," Stutz said.
The firefighters said they didn't bring up the restrictions under the Safe Haven law because they didn't want to scare her away.
Leaving her baby with firefighters is "a lot better than other alternatives," Stutz said. "We're happy about that."
Signs identifying fire stations as safe havens are posted at each firehouse. The signs, showing a baby cradled in a hand, do not list any details about the law -- those are included in packets at the stations.
Every firefighter in Chicago was trained last year in how to deal with the Safe Haven law and every recruit is trained on the law when they get hired, said Leslee Stein-Spencer, who manages firefighter training.
Firefighters are taught to take in every child, even if he or she is more than 30 days old. The firefighters are required to call an ambulance and have the child assessed at the nearest hospital.
"We tell them not to be judgmental and to accept the baby," Stein-Spencer said. "We don't want to scare them off. It may be in the best interest of the child."
The law allows parents 72 hours to retrieve the child. On Monday, the firefighters told the woman that the baby was going to Stroger Hospital and she could find him there if she changed her mind.
The woman did the right thing because she took the baby to a place where he would be cared for, said Dawn Geras, founder and president of the Save Abandoned Baby Foundation.
"She did get help, the baby is safe and my heart goes out to her that she reached the point where she felt she couldn't take care of her child," Geras said. "She did an OK thing, she went to a place of safety."
DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said he could not address specifics of this case, but said the agency usually takes custody of infants who are abandoned.
Since the Safe Haven law was passed in 2001, 72 infants 30 days or younger have been brought to fire stations, police stations and other designated safe havens, Geras said. At least 20 more children, all more than 30 days old, were also left at havens during that time, she said.
The baby left at Engine 107 was clean, well-nourished and able to hold a bottle on his own, said Harrison District Police Lt. John Andrews.
Stutz fills in at firehouses across the city and Monday was his first time at Engine 107.
"It's a little traumatic," he said.
(Rosemary Sobol and Jeremy Gorner contributed.)
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