Elves on a Ladder Truck

by Thomas Horne
Maryland, USA

Elves On a Ladder Truck

December 24, 1988, our firehouse ambulance was racing in response to a report of a baby being shaken out a window three stories in the air. Police were also en route. Dispatch relayed that the baby was being used to extort money from the mother. On arrival, we indeed saw a baby being held out a window by his feet — three stories up.

As we ran up the stairs, my partner said, “Distract the guy for a minute, I’ll get the baby.”

A crying five-year-old opened the door. “He’s hurting my brother!”

I entered, speaking as calmly as I could. Wild-eyed, the assailant said, “Don’t touch me, cop, or I smash the brat.”

I said, “I’m a firefighter. I only want to check the baby.”

Suddenly a pair of hands appeared and pulled the child from the assailant’s grasp. From the apartment’s kitchen, my partner had gone out the window and reached across to grab the child — three stories up.

WildEyes looked at his now-empty hands, charged past me, and escaped.

Breathing raggedly, I surveyed a desperately bleak room. One bare bulb, broken furniture, an empty drawer for a crib. My partner came in holding the baby very close, saying over and over, “He’s all right. He’s all right.”

We gathered up the mother and two other children. Downstairs, we met an army of police officers. As we loaded up the family, the officers took the perpetrator’s description. With the madman’s picture etched into my brain, I described him from top to bottom.

After transporting the family to Children’s Hospital, we took another call. When the officers caught the assailant, he fought back, bruised two officers, and ended up needing stitches.

Back at the station, a senior firefighter asked me for every detail. When I finished, he said, “You can’t fix the world, but you can mend parts of it,” and got our shift together. “We have a family to care for,” he said.

“It’s Christmas Eve! Most stores are closed,” we chorused. The captain replied, “I think this shift could pull it off on Christmas day.” No one argued further.

Groups went to the grocery, a toy store, and a child-care supply store. Between us, we assembled Christmas for a family that needed everything. Next item, the only unpurchased Christmas tree left from our department’s tree sale fundraiser. The crew shortened that poor scraggly thing and trimmed it to a decent shape. A 24-hour pharmacy yielded lights and ornaments.

We called the hospital and found that the baby’s evaluation would take several more hours; the family would be sent home in the morning.

At 11:00 p.m., we were finally ready. But back at the apartment building, the apartment door had a double-cylinder jimmy-proof lock.

We laddered the apartment and hauled all the supplies up the ladder.

Two different police officers came by with more items. We all agreed that at least for one day, the baby’s brother, sister, and yes, even his mom, could believe in Santa Claus.

Originally published as HeroicStories #841 on December 25, 2011

14 thoughts on “Elves on a Ladder Truck”

    • “Firefighting is a hazardous occupation; it is dangerous on the face of it, tackling a burning building. The risks are plain…. … Consequently when one seeks to become a firefighter their act of bravery has already been performed. Everything that comes after is all in their line of work. Firefighters do not consider themselves heroes for doing what their business requires. ” Edward F Croker, Chief Engineer Commanding, Fire Department of the City of New York.

      Tom Horne

      With apologies to Kipling:
      Well we aren’t no thin blue heroes and yet we aren’t no blackguards to.
      We’re just working men and women most remarkable like you.

    • I think its good for all of us (old readers AND newcomers) to see such easy-straight-goodwill-stories just to “tuneup” into HeroicStories mood. Remember we’re the ones to make the world a better place.

    • I enjoy Christmas in September or any other day of the year. Wonderful story, reminding us we can make a difference in people’s lives any time.

  1. I remember this one from the previous incarnation of Heroic Stories.

    It stuck with me for several days afterwards, and probably will this time. A fine example of what happens when a group of strangers see a need, and united in a common purpose take steps to ‘mend part of it’. It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by a large problem and forget you can fix a part at least.

    I imagine the mother and children were overwhelmed when they found their home magically decorated.

    But I also wonder at the desperation and circumstances which could cause any father to act like that, and assume that either drugs or mental illness, possibly both, were in the driving seat that day. Life can be like an open sewer at times, but there’s often someone at the side reaching out a hand to pluck you out.

    The Good Samaritan impulse is a powerful one and often surfaces in the most seemingly unlikely helpers.


    • John

      The perpetrator was not the father but rather a neighbor against whom his wife had obtained a protective court order. Even through his drug induced haze he remembered that the judge had told him he faced 5 years imprisonment if he tried to contact her. So being afraid of going to prison he did not try to get into his wife’s apartment. But the judge hadn’t told him not to try to force drug money from someone else so he ended up trying to extort the money from a neighbor instead. The defenseless neighbors husband had been killed after being struck by a hit and run driver 6 months prior to this incident before ever meeting his son. Because they were in the country “illegally” they did not qualify for public assistance and the mother was waiting for money from the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund to return to her family in her home country when this occurred. One of our Chaplains contacted every congregation of her church in and near our service area and they got her and her three children home to her extended family.

      Retired Master Firefighter Tom Horne

  2. I haven’t been subscribed to ‘HeroicStories’ for very long, but this story is the best one yet… and they’ve all been good, of course. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. I remember this story from the first time it was published, and repeat it often. It is a wonderful, heartwarming story of how small things can make a big difference in people’s lives. And I don’t believe the payoff was only for the family. I’m sure those firefighters and policemen had a wonderful Christmas Day too thanks to the good deed they did.

  4. I remember this story from the first time it ran, my eyes watered then too. I try to help others whenever I can, been extremely lucky that gracious people were there when I needed help. Just paying it forward.

  5. I look forward to ALL of your articles. The Fire fighters article brought tears to my eyes, and took away some of my breath. Thank you for your uplifting tales of human courage and love – they’re inspirational! It’s easier to give than to take away, it’s easier to help than it is to hinder, and it’s easier to love than to hate!

  6. Ah, an excellent feel good story. How lovely it would have been to have a follow-up story about the family on that Christmas Day. Firefighters are the best!


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