Detroit firefighters surprised to find baby while searching house in fire

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

When Detroit firefighters reached a burning home early one morning last week on the city's east side, they found several adults standing outside asking them to save the dogs inside.

None mentioned an 18-month-old girl that fire crews found and rescued inside, said Detroit Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell.

The firefighters were "totally dumbfounded," he said. "It is extremely unusual that when we pulled up the family never mentioned there was a child in the building."

The baby now is safe, but the incident has triggered a Detroit police investigation, Officer Holly Lance, a spokeswoman for the city Police Department, said Friday.

Meanwhile, authorities are working to determine the cause of the fire, which was deemed "suspicious," Fornell said.

Crews were dispatched to the home in the 11000 block of Riad at about 3:20 a.m. April 5.

Firefighters went to different parts of the home after asking if anyone was inside, Fornell said. Then, as black smoke filled one of the rooms, one firefighter noticed a crib and saw the 18-month-old.

Firefighter LaVaughn Williams told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) he noticed movement under a blanket in a crib in a room.

“I’m a father. I have a 3-year-old. It just stunned me. I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Williams told the station.

It wasn't until he exited the home with the baby in his arms that a woman, identified as the child's adoptive mother, acknowledged her, Fornell said. "It was kind of a surprise to us that we found the child."

There were no indication the dogs, including puppies, were harmed, and most of the damage to the house was in the kitchen, Fornell said.

Emergency personnel raced the baby to Children's Hospital of Detroit. They said she had "injuries inconsistent with being trapped in a fire" and alerted police as well as Children's Protective Services, Fornell said. 

After she was treated, the 18-month-old was placed with another guardian, Lance said Friday.

Reached for comment Friday on the case, Bob Wheaton, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which includes CPS, told The Detroit News: "Details of CPS investigations, including whether there is a investigation involving a specific child, are confidential and cannot be released."

Meanwhile, Detroit police child abuse and arson investigators continue to investigate the case, Lance said. No charges had been filed as of Friday.