by Thomas Horne
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.