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Newborn girl left at fire station

The newborn baby girl left wrapped in a towel inside a small cardboard box Saturday morning at a Grand Forks Fire Station is in good condition at Altru Hospital, a nursing supervisor said Sunday.

Grand Forks police have said only that the investigation continues into who left the baby there and what the circumstances of her birth and the condition of her mother.

Shortly after 7:30 a.m. Saturday, a firefighter shoveling snow outside the fire station on North Columbia Road on UND's Bronson Property heard a voice, probably a man's, nearby and went over to check on it and found the box on top of an electrical transformer.

The baby was given quick medical attention, including oxygen and warmed-up clean towels from firefighters and then was taken by ambulance to Altru.

It was clear the baby had been born within hours of being left at the fire station, police and firefighters said.

It appeared that a man left the box at the fire station, making enough noise to attract the attention of the firefighter shoveling snow, police said.

North Dakota's "safe haven" law allows people to leave young children at a hospital without facing abandonment or negligence charges. While some states include fire stations as such "safe havens," North Dakota does not, so the people responsible for leaving the baby could face criminal charges, police said.

But the first concern is the baby's health and that of her mother, police said.

There have been "safe haven" babies left at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, said Kate Kenna, regional director of Northeast Human Services in Grand Forks and of Lake Region Human Services in Devils Lake.

"But we haven't had many safe-haven babies in North Dakota," Kenna said.

The state's safe haven law allows a parent or "agent" to leave a baby at a hospital without having to provide any information or answer any questions. Usually, such cases are not made public.

In the case of this baby girl, Altru can, by a doctor's decision, keep custody of a baby for 72 hours. Then, typically, a court order is obtained transferring custody of the child to the local branch of state social services, Kenna said.

"There are many families out there ready to adopt this baby, who have had adoption studies done on their home and are on the waiting list for adoption," Kenna said.

A child typically must live in a home six months before being eligible for adoption, but the goal is to keep a child "in only one home," Kenna said.

"Foster adoption," allows a family qualified for providing foster care to take in a child with the idea they later would adopt the child.

That could happen within a week with this baby, except in her case it's not clear yet if the mother willingly gave up custody, so more of an investigation might be necessary, Kenna said.

It's possible, for example, the baby will be determined to be from another state, which then might involve other laws and regulations for establishing custody, Kenna said.

Initial Post

A just-born baby girl in a cardboard box was left at the fire station on North Columbia Road near UND a few minutes before daybreak Saturday morning. She's doing fine, and police are searching for the mother and the man who apparently left her there, police Lt. Jim Remer said.

Firefighter Brandon LaRoque was shoveling snow about 7:30 a.m. at the station when he heard someone saying something, probably a man's voice. But in the darkness he could see only the form of someone next to an electrical transformer, said Capt. Randy Fetsch, who had just arrived on duty.

LaRoque quickly finished shoveling and within a minute or so walked over to where he had heard the voice and found a small cardboard box on top of the transformer. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was about 15 degrees above zero at 7:30 this morning. But the wind chill was 2 degrees below zero.

Other firefighters joined him and they heard a sort of scratching in the box and figured kittens, Fetsch said.

"One firefighter actually put on gloves before handling the box," Fetsch said. But as soon at they reached the box down, they realized who was inside.

The baby girl obviously was only a few hours old and was swaddled in a towel, Fetsch said.

Fetsch said it seemed clear the person who left the box tried to make enough noise so that firefighters would hear and find the box. No one called later to the station to make sure, he said. But for all he knows, the person who left the box waited around to watch and make sure someone found it, Fetsch said.

A nearby bank across the street might have surveillance cameras that picked up something. Remer said all that is part of the investigation.

Fetsch said firefighters warmed up towels in a dryer. The towel found with the baby girl likely was the one used in her delivery, because it was damp.

The box had few markings, and was small, about 18 inches square and 8 inches deep, Fetsch said.

Fetsch has been with the fire department 18 years, and he's never heard of a baby being left at a station.

"The baby was kind of sleeping. We brought her in and started some medical care, gave the baby some oxygen."

The shift captain just leaving duty "threw some towels in a dryer to warm them up and I took the baby out of the towel it was in, which could have been the same one used in its delivery, because it was kind of damp. And I held on to the baby to give it some body warmth. The baby's extremities were a little cold. It cried a little bit when we rewrapped her in a dry towel, but as soon as I held her again she went back to sleep."

Within a few minutes an ambulance and police arrived and a few minutes later the baby was in Altru Hospital, Fetsch said.

Tracks in the snow leading to and away from the box, consistent with a man's tracks, went to a nearby parking lot where police lost the trail, Remer said.

Although some states include fire stations -- which typically are manned 24 hours a day with firefighters trained to give some emergency medical care -- as well as hospitals in their "safe-haven" laws, North Dakota does not, Remer said.

Safe-haven laws are relatively recent legislation in many states that allow people to leave children in the care of a hospital or in some states, a fire station, without fearing or facing prosecution for abandoning the child.

In North Dakota law, only hospitals are specified as safe-haven drop off points. So the person or persons who left this baby girl could face criminal charges.

"But obviously right now our main concern is the baby and the baby's mother," Remer said. "It appears to be a baby pretty close to full term. We want to make sure the mom is OK, and get any information from her as to the circumstances, what was taking place, and what happened."

Any decision about charges would happen later, once police turn over what they learn to the county state's attorney's office.