The knock on the fire station door came near the end of a busy but routine shift for the three on-duty firefighters at Station 6 in Garden Grove.
What happened next was a big surprise and a little miracle.
A distraught woman in her early 20s stood at the door, holding her newborn.
She had cleaned him and wrapped him in a dark blanket.
And she had shown up at Station 6 around 5 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2013 to hand him over under the state’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law.
Created in January 2001 and made permanent in January 2006, the law allows a parent or person with lawful custody to surrender an infant to a fire station or hospital within 72 hours of birth, no questions asked. It’s designed to save lives of newborns at risk of abandonment.
“Somebody just dropped off a baby,” a stunned Garden Grove Fire Engineer Joe Crawford informed Capt. Tony Acosta and Paramedic Ryan Van Wie. The baby is one of 669 kids surrendered since the law was enacted 13 years ago. This year, through Sept. 30, 57 newborns have been surrendered.
The firefighters attended to the baby, only 2 hours old, and the mother. Within 30 minutes, the mother was gone and the baby was in the care of doctors and nurses at Garden Grove Hospital Medical Center.
While all of this was happening, a married couple from Laguna Hills was on the other side of the country visiting family for the holidays.
The couple had been trying to adopt a child for three years.
They had been praying for a child — any ethnicity, from birth to 5 or 6 years old — but had been told that getting a newborn would be highly unlikely.
And getting a newborn via the state’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law?
Like winning the lottery.
The next day, on Dec. 30, 2103, the Orange County Social Services Agency contacted the Laguna Hills couple, Kimberley, 42, and Christopher, 41, who were spending the holidays with Christopher’s family in Greencastle, Penn. It was an especially important visit because his mother, Winifred, 73, had Stage 4 lung cancer.
“I have a baby boy for you,” the social worker told Christopher. “I assume you’re still interested?”
Kimberley could barely speak through her tears.
The couple was back in Orange County on Jan. 2 and brought their son home from the hospital on Jan. 8.
They made it out to Greencastle again in March so Winifred could meet her first grandchild. She died on the day the family returned to California.
On Oct. 24, 2014, the couple formally adopted Caleb.
And on Sunday, Dec. 28, Caleb and his parents visited Station 6 so the firefighters could meet the boy the day before he turned 1.
They presented Caleb with a cake, which he munched on with his six teeth.
They gave him a toy fire engine and a teddy bear.
One of the firefighters put a red “Fire Chief” hat on Caleb’s head, but he quickly tossed it.
“He’s never been a big fan of hats,” Christopher said with a laugh.
Acosta and Van Wie recalled meeting the dark-haired infant a year ago.
“He was super mellow,” Van Wie said.
State officials are working on ways to better crunch numbers to gauge the effectiveness of the Safely Surrendered Baby Law in preventing infant abandonment.
One thing is certain: 669 children who would have been abandoned have found homes.
Acosta stressed the importance of more public awareness about the Safely Surrendered Baby Law. And he encouraged parents to surrender their child even if the 72-hour window has passed. He recalled a case five to six years ago when a father brought a 10-day-old baby to Capt. Thanh Nguyen at another Garden Grove fire station. The police had to get involved but a baby’s life potentially was saved.
“The fact that we had an opportunity to meet this little boy and his new family a year later is nothing short of a miracle,” Nguyen said outside Station 6 on Sunday. “This law is important because it can prevent a potential tragedy, and it gives a child a chance of having a great life.”
Kimberley warmly thanked the firefighters at Station 6.
“You are like heroes to us,” she said.
Christopher thought about the actions of Caleb’s birth mother a year ago.
Said the grinning dad: “It was the most loving thing she could do for a child she couldn’t take care of.”
Kimberley also spoke about how thankful she and her husband were that Caleb’s birthmother knew about the Safe Surrender law, and chose to use it.
When asked if she had any words for the birth mom, Kimberley said: “We think of you every day and we tell Caleb what a courageous and loving mother you are. We know this was probably the hardest decision you ever had to make, and we pray that you know that he is being loved and taken care of and he is a miracle to us.”
Added Kimberley: “If one day you ever want to meet him, we would be totally open to that and for you to have a relationship with him. The more people who love him, the better. You are part of our family.”