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Baby left at Grand Forks fire hall a year ago adopted

GRAND FORKS -- She has dark, curly hair and large, wondering eyes, and she has been given a name that in another language means "little fiery one."

She may be a day or two older than 1 today, but this could be considered her birthday - one year from the day the newborn baby girl was abandoned in a cardboard box outside a Grand Forks fire hall, where firefighter Brandon LaRoque found her after shoveling snow in the pre-dawn darkness.

The Grand Forks area woman who, with her husband, adopted the baby calls her "a wonderful miracle for us."

The adoptive parents asked not to be identified and declined to say much about the past year.

"We're very private people," the mother said. "We want to protect her privacy as much as possible. She's our daughter now, and I don't want what happened a year ago to be her identity.

"I would love to say many things about her. We love her, and she's doing great. ... It's a perfect ending."

Another reason for her reluctance to talk about the baby's story: concern and sympathy for the unknown birth parents, whose reasons for surrendering the child by leaving it outside a fire hall she can only guess at.

"I don't want to rehash it for her," she said. "There's a woman out there who's struggling. It's an anniversary for her, too."

'It's a baby!'

LaRoque, 26, was shoveling snow about 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2009, when he thought he heard a voice. He and others assume it was the person who left the baby on an electrical transformer box, making enough noise so someone would check on it.

The air temperature was 15 degrees, the wind chill 2 degrees.

"I finished shoveling and I noticed the box sitting on the transformer," LaRoque said. "I thought somebody was trying to pull a prank. I pushed it a little, and she made a sound. I thought, 'OK, somebody has got something good going here.' "

A box of kittens, maybe? Another firefighter put on gloves before reaching inside.

"But I took it inside and we opened it, and 'Holy smokes! It's a baby!' " LaRoque said.

"It's still pretty fresh in my mind. I think about her often - more so lately because of the snow. I'm still on shoveling duty."

Firefighters checked the baby girl's vital signs, gave her oxygen and wrapped her in warm towels. Altru sent an ambulance, and at the hospital she received a thorough examination.

Within days, the unidentified baby became a state responsibility until she could be placed in foster care and, some months later, with the adoptive parents.

Those new parents have brought "little fiery one" to the Columbia Road Fire Station to visit her rescuers, LaRoque said. They've shared pictures, too.

"She's cute," he said. "She has dark hair, and it's curly, and big eyes. And she's doing really well."

A chorus of requests came to social services offices last January from people who wanted to provide foster care or adopt the child. LaRoque, who does not have children, said his wife, Leigh, "was working in the hospital ER that day," and she joined in lavishing attention on the little girl.

"Her co-workers were giving her some 'finders keepers' grief,' " he said,

Not a safe haven

Why a fire station? Like most other states, North Dakota has a "safe haven" law, which provides immunity to people who surrender a newborn when, for financial or emotional or other reasons, they decide they can't keep the child.

Unlike about 30 other states, however, North Dakota requires that a baby be left with an appropriate person at a hospital or certain other facilities - but not fire halls. After the Jan. 17 incident, Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, introduced a bill during the 2009 Legislature adding fire halls with 24-hour staffing to the list of acceptable drop-off points, but the bill failed.

The fact that 30 states include fire stations as safe havens but North Dakota doesn't "could create confusion that potentially could have cost an infant its life," Schneider said last week.

"Maybe you have a distraught mother passing through from another state where fire stations are included," he said. "She can't be expected to stop and look through the North Dakota Century Code" to determine a proper place to leave a baby she has decided she can't keep.

The theory behind safe- haven laws is that, without them, panic-stricken parents might harm newborns if they feel they're out of options.

Schneider said he had talked with firefighter friends who were concerned about potential liability issues if their halls weren't legally considered safe havens. "It was a problem that was no longer hypothetical," he said, referring to the Jan. 17 incident.

Police file open

Grand Forks police Lt. Rahn Farder said the case "remains open, but nothing new has come in" since the first weeks when police received and checked out numerous tips.

"We did check area businesses for videotape," he said. "None of that turned out, either."

Because the fire hall is not a safe haven as defined by state law, the person or people who left the baby there could have faced child neglect or other charges.

"Although it's a year later now, we'd still encourage anyone with information to give us a call," Farder said.

He said he would "have to think long and hard" to come up with anything comparable happening in Grand Forks. Social services officials also say that use of the safe-haven law, adopted in 2001, is rare statewide.

Like others involved in the incident, from firefighters and police investigators to hospital nurses and social workers, Farder said he has thought about the baby from time to time in the past year and wondered how she's doing.

"In law enforcement, we get involved in situations and in people's lives where things are happening," he said. "We have to do our duty as investigators, but there can be personal feelings. We're people, too."