SOMERS, N.Y. - It’s a cold January day in Somers, and this roomful of Northern Westchester firefighters is more than familiar with saving lives, 24/7.
But Tim Jaccard is telling them about a wholly different way to safeguard life — and along the way salvage both the lives of people in crisis and their newborn, but unwanted, babies.
Jaccard, a onetime ambulance medical technician (AMT), provides alternatives for desperate, often young mothers with an unplanned pregnancy. He does this through his AMT Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven Foundation, founded on Long Island in 1998. Since then, by his count last month, 3,045 infants, who might otherwise have been abandoned, perhaps to die, have been placed in loving homes nationwide.
Fire departments provide a key link in this minimal-fuss, no-questions-asked transition of a baby from endangered newborn to someone’s treasured new arrival.
Standing in the conference room of the Lincolndale firehouse on Primrose Street, surrounded by volunteers and officers from Somers and other communities, the now-retired Nassau County cop was a long way last month from his home turf. Yet that was familiar ground for the man who has crisscrossed the country, successfully lobbying 50 states to adopt safe-haven laws institutionalizing the program he started in New York.
The state adopted its law, the Infant Abandonment Protection Act, in 2001.
“The law permits a mother to drop off an unwanted newborn baby at a police or fire station or at hospitals,” says John Markiewicz, who chairs Somers’ five-member Board of Fire Commissioners.
“I ran into Tim at the New York State Fire Chiefs Conference in June 2014,” the commissioner says, recalling Jaccard’s advocacy for the safe-haven project. “I knew that this was a program that the Somers Fire District needed to be involved with.”
After discussing it with his fellow commissioners, “we all agreed to move ahead with the program. In early 2015, signs were placed at the Lincolndale Fire House designating it a location for the baby safe-haven program.”
That meant the volunteers who fill Somers’ fire-protection ranks had new skills to learn. So, Jaccard came to Lincolndale last month to provide, in Markiewicz’ words, “a detailed in-service training session” for the town’s firefighters and leadership as well as for members of the Goldens Bridge and Pound Ridge fire departments.
When Markiewicz encountered Jaccard at the chiefs conference in upstate Verona, the commissioner says, he was already familiar with the safe-haven program, “but I was unaware of its history.”
That narrative dates back almost two decades, to Jaccard’s days as an AMT with the Nassau County police. Responding to a courthouse call in 1998, he found a dead newborn, lying face down in a toilet stall, a sight that reduced him to tears. Moved to do something, not only for this unwanted child but also for the other dead and discarded babies he inevitably encountered, Jaccard started with a modest goal: to give each of these children a name and proper burial.
He bought a large cemetery plot and, after being declared legal guardian of these forgotten foundlings, made certain each was baptized with a unique first name. In a kind of kinship of castoff souls, all of them also received the same last name: Hope.
But Jaccard, preferring to save the babies rather than bury them, knew he had to do more. A year later he opened his first crisis center, which gives young women three options: become the child’s nurturing mother, set up an adoption through a licensed agency and, as Jaccard puts it, “the last resort: relinquishment under the law.”
That’s where the firefighters from Somers and the surrounding communities come in. The state’s Safe Haven law allows a birth parent to surrender the baby, anonymously, within 30 days of birth at, for example, the Lincolndale firehouse. If the station is unmanned, a sign will provide the number — (516) 781-3511 — to call. Once the babies have been turned over to a responsible person, the parents go on their way. “They just leave, and that’s it,” Jaccard said. “We don’t even ask their ages.”