Toddler caught after being tossed from window of burning D.C. apartment

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The firefighter was rushing toward a burning apartment building in Southeast D.C. on Sunday night when he heard a shout overhead.

“Get my baby!” a man yelled.

A first-floor hallway in the building on the 700 block of Alabama Avenue was on fire, and black smoke was billowing through the building. The firefighter, Jared McKinney, spotted a man holding his toddler out from a second-floor window. They were trapped.

McKinney looked up, positioning himself on a patch of grass below the window, and said, “Okay.”

“Don’t drop my baby,” the man told him, before letting the child go.

McKinney caught the 2-year-old boy under his little armpits and held him against his chest. Then he backed away a safe distance and set the toddler — barefoot in a T-shirt and diaper and too stunned to speak or cry — down on the ground. He had to help his crew finish the rescue.

The firefighters positioned a 24-foot ladder in the window and got the toddler’s older sibling out next. The two kids held one another while firefighters brought down their mother and father.

Seven people, including the family, were evaluated by emergency responders but did not need to be hospitalized, the D.C. fire department said. Once the fire was out, McKinney said the father approached him to say thank you.

Catching babies is not something firefighters specifically train for, McKinney said. They prefer to go in and pull people out or rescue them with ladders.

“Everything was happening just so fast,” he said, and his “instincts kicked in.”

That instinct runs deep in McKinney. For one, he’s also a father, to a teenage boy and girl. And two, he was born and raised in Southeast and has been a firefighter there for 17 years, since he was 19; he rescued two other children earlier this year. And three, his dad was a career firefighter there, too, retiring in 2016.

So was McKinney nervous to make the catch?

“Didn’t have time to be nervous,” he said, with unfeigned modesty. After they had extinguished the fire, it was back to firehouse to wait for the next call.

It was a busy weekend for firefighters in the District. Earlier Sunday, rookie firefighter Kojo Saunders rescued a woman from a separate apartment fire in the 2100 block of I Street NE in Trinidad. Once inside the burning building, he heard the sound of coughing, found an adult woman and pulled her to safety. The woman was transferred to a trauma center in serious condition.

In a video posted to the D.C. fire department’s Twitter account, a spokesperson asked Saunders, who has been on the job for only six months, “How does it feel to make a rescue as a probationary firefighter?”

“It feels nice to be able to do my job,” he responded, with a small smile and a nod.

Three people were displaced Saturday after a fire in the 4000 block of Eighth Street SE, and one person was displaced Monday in a high-rise apartment fire in the 1200 block of M Street NW. No injuries were reported in those fires. D.C. Fire and EMS responded to more than 300 calls over the holiday weekend, the department said.

McKinney, the firefighter who rescued the toddler, said it was unusual to have this many fires and rescues, even on a holiday weekend. He doesn’t know why but figures it has something to do with the pandemic and more and more people getting together.

It would be the same for him Monday evening, when his shift finally ended. He planned to join his dad’s cookout, where he looked forward to telling his old man about his good catch.