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NY cop honored for saving life of choking baby

“When I first saw the call, all I was thinking was that could be my son,” Officer Thomas Miller said

By Chris Baker
Syracuse Media Group

SYRACUSE, NY — Officer Thomas Miller was near the end of his shift around 5 a.m. on a Thursday last November when a call came into his station. It was a point-of-interest call -- a fairly routine thing for first responders -- but the subject caught his eye: non-responsive baby.

It’s not the kind of call police are required to respond to, but Miller was nearby. And his own baby was on his mind.

“When I first saw the call, all I was thinking was that could be my son,” he said.

So he jumped in his cruiser and sped to Parkside Commons apartment complex. He sprinted up three flights of stairs to the apartment.

Inside, he found an unconscious one-month-old girl. Her grandmother had fallen asleep while feeding the baby from a bottle. The baby’s mouth, nose and lungs were filled with milk.

“I saw the baby and her face was changing color,” he said. “There was milk coming out of her nose, even the corners of her eyes.”

He had no time for emotion, he said. He grabbed the baby and put her on her stomach on his left arm. With his right arm, he gave two firm pats on her back. Then he flipped her over and began chest compressions.

Suddenly the girl started breathing. And crying. And screaming. She was in rough shape, but she was alive.

Miller used his glove to clear the baby’s mouth of mucous and milk. Soon after, the fire department and other emergency responders arrived and took over.

Miller went back to the station, clocked out, and went home. That was a little after 6 a.m.

His superiors didn’t learn about what he did until the next day. A firefighter who had responded that night called the station to let them know. When Miller’s sergeant found out, he asked Miller why he hadn’t reported the incident to get some kudos for it.

“I said no, it’s just what we do,” Miller said. “I’m used to doing my job and going home, not really saying much about it.”

Miller, who has been with SPD for three years, was one of 33 Syracuse cops honored Wednesday night at the annual Syracuse Police Medal Awards Ceremony. He received the Life Saving Award for his actions that night.

At the event, Master of Ceremonies Dan Cummings said Miller responded to a call he didn’t need to, and he saved that baby’s life.

Other officers honored included investigators like Det. Jeremy Merola, who received the inaugural Richard Walsh Detective of the Year Award. Officer William Foster was honored for talking down an armed, suicidal man until a crisis team arrived.

Officer Eric Gerace also received the Life Saving award for saving a man who was shot in the leg on South State Street last year. Gerace had a civilian with him that night doing a ride-along: Juanita Perez Williams, who was running for Syracuse mayor at the time.

The department also honored its homicide unit, which was formed last year after a record 30 homicides in 2016. That unit had an 86 percent clearance rate last year.

The ceremony -- held at the Red House Arts Center -- opened with somber remarks from Mayor Ben Walsh, who lamented the violence plaguing the city.

Walsh also told officers in the room that his recent appeal to the New York State Police for help combating gun violence is no reflection on their ability to do their jobs. He said he’s looking to bring any and all resources possible to the city.

“You are doing exceptional work in spite of these very difficult circumstances,” he said, adding that he plans to soon graduate two more academy classes of police. “If in the meantime that means asking for help, if it means saving one more life, we’re going to do that.”

Syracuse Police Benevolent Association President Jeff Piedmonte thanked Walsh for being there and took a jab at former Mayor Stephanie Miner.

“This is a first time for Mayor Walsh and it’s actually the first time in nine years we’ve had a mayor here, so we welcome you here,” he told Walsh. The crowd laughed and applauded.