‘She’s my Christmas gift’: DC firefighters reunite with baby they saved

Almost as soon as she walked into the Southeast D.C. firehouse that’s home to Engine Company 19 on Christmas Eve, a mother found herself wiping away tears of gratitude.

Back in March, Cierra Duckett was in a car on Minnesota Avenue Southeast: She was going into labor, but was less than 30 weeks along. She was in pain, and the baby wasn’t waiting. Her husband flagged down passing firefighters.

Firefighter and trained medic Terrika Hooks remembered the frantic appeal for help.

“We were on our way to another call,” Hooks said. But it was obvious Duckett needed their help.

The experienced medic said Duckett suddenly shrieked that the baby was coming. “We looked, and the baby was right there,” Hooks said.

Hooks: 'The baby was right there'

But baby ZaNiyah Peterson was delivered still inside the amniotic sack — Hooks had to cut the infant from the sack, and found the baby wasn’t breathing.

Duckett said it was scary. She could overhear the first responders working on her baby.

“They kept saying she wasn’t looking too good,” Duckett said. “But we had hope and we had faith — and she’s a fighter. She really fought for her life.”

On Tuesday, nine months later, Duckett visited the firehouse to thank the team that saved her baby. She stood at a podium and handed out awards to Hooks, and firefighters Shamia Pardlow, Jamil Blackman, Monique Smith and Capt. Tyrone Jenkins.

Pardlow had only been on the job two days when the team was called to help Duckett and her baby. She recalled how tiny ZaNiyah was.

“She fit in the palm of my hands,” Pardlow said. “And I have small hands!”

To see how ZaNiyah is now thriving, Pardlow said, “I’m just so happy. She’s my Christmas gift, too!”

Duckett said she knows that ZaNiyah’s too young to understand now, but she often tells her baby the story of her birth. “Just to let her know that she was a miracle — she was saved.”

Duckett: 'She was a miracle'
Baby ZaNiyah got to meet the firefighters who helped save her life when she was first delivered in March.

The firefighters also had a gift for baby ZaNiyah Peterson.

Firefighters Shamia Pardlow, Jamil Blackman, firefighter/medic Terrika Hooks and firefighter Monique Smith pose for a photo with baby ZaNiyah Peterson, the little girl whose life was saved thanks to their efforts.

Firefighter and trained medic Terrika Hooks remembered the frantic appeal for help.

“They kept saying she wasn’t looking too good,” mom Cierra Duckett said. “But we had hope and we had faith — and she’s a fighter. She really fought for her life.”

On Tuesday, nine months later, Duckett visited the firehouse to thank the team that saved her baby.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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