By BRIAN WALKER
ATHOL — Abigail Morse will have a whopping birthday story to tell — not to mention some possible special guests to celebrate.
The newborn's mother, Leah, was high-tailing it to Kootenai Health in labor on the night of March 21 with father Robert in the driver's seat when Abigail's imminent arrival forced an impromptu pit stop at the Timberlake fire station in Athol.
"My husband kept banging on the door because they were sleeping and I couldn't get out of the van," said Leah, who lives in the Spirit Lake East subdivision. "Her head was out when we got there. It went super fast."
Moments later, Capt. Brandon Hermenet, with the assistance of Firefighter/EMT Joel Long and later Capt. Bill Wright and Division Chief Tim Whitehurst, helped deliver Abigail in the van.
"Normally we have several minutes to get in the right frame of mind," Whitehurst said. "But, in this case, the call literally arrived at our doorstep. (The crew) sprung out of bed and delivered a baby."
Whitehurst said emergency responders occasionally assist with births — they're trained to do so — but the circumstance at the fire station was a first in his 30-plus-year career.
"We deal with the opposite end of the spectrum so often," he said. "We'd rather bring life into the world instead of watching it go out."
Leah said she started having contractions around 10 p.m.
"I was having one after another by the time we got to the end of our dirt road at Highway 54," she said. "I was screaming to my husband that we weren't going to make it to the hospital. He was on the phone with 911 and asked if anyone was at the Athol fire station and they said they'd dispatch them."
Leah said it appeared Hermenet and Long were surprised at what was waiting in the van when they came downstairs.
"I think they thought I was going into labor, but not delivering the baby then and there," she said.
Abigail, who arrived healthy at 7 pounds, 15 ounces and 20 inches long, is the couple's seventh child. The unique birth was special for all involved, Leah said.
"Tim said he'd been waiting for something like this for years," she said. "I was like, 'I'm glad I was able to do that for you.'"
After Robert had the honor of cutting the umbilical cord with a scalpel, Leah was placed in a gurney and a readily available ambulance for a warm ride to the hospital with Abigail to recover.
The family later returned to the fire station to thank the crew for their efforts.
"It was a great honor for the crew to be able to meet the entire family and celebrate its latest addition," Whitehurst said, adding that Abigail's six brothers and sisters were treated to a tour of the station and a fire engine.
The visit was just the start of what will likely be a bond — and a story — for years to come.
"We'll keep going back because I want her to know who they are since they were part of a special delivery," Leah said. "She'll have a story to carry on to her children."
Mom already envisions a firefighter theme and guests of honor for Abigail's first birthday.
"I'd love it if they could show up in a fire truck even if it's just a few minutes," she said.