Those choosing to surrender a baby safely and anonymously now have the option to do so locally, and White River Township Fire Department officials are proud to be the first in the county to offer such a service.
The fire department, which recently moved into its new headquarters, will unveil its Safe Haven Baby Box this week, the first in Johnson County, and one of only 25 in the country.
The box will be in operation later this week, and the department plans to host a blessing of it at its new Fire Station No. 53, 366 N. Morgantown Road, Greenwood. The public is welcome to attend the free event.
Fire Chief Jeremy Pell and Safe Haven Baby Boxes founder and CEO Monica Kelsey will also speak during the event.
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Fire department staff and 911 dispatchers were trained on Safe Haven Baby Box policies and procedures, Pell said, and that information has been transmitted to everyone on staff, so that anyone on any shift knows exactly what to do if the box were to be utilized.
Here’s how it works: Once a baby is placed inside the box, which is built into a wall on the side of the fire station with access from the outside, the door locks; 60 seconds later, an alarm sounds at the fire station, the alarm company is notified and Johnson County 911 dispatchers are called. Firefighters or paramedics retrieve the baby, evaluate it onsite and take it to a hospital for further evaluation. At that point, the Department of Child Services takes custody of the child.
Once a baby is surrendered, it can’t be reversed without going through the formal process.
"When they shut that door, there’s a magnetic enclosure on it and it can’t be opened again, and that’s important," Pell said. "There’s a process; they can go through DCS to get their child back.
Anyone who is in a crisis with a newborn child, we want them to get help," he continued. "It’s about saving a life."
There is a bassinet inside the box, which is climate-controlled. There are no cameras on or near the box so that it can remain anonymous, Pell said.
Indiana’s Safe Haven Law allows anyone to surrender a newborn baby to any hospital emergency room, police station or fire station without any questions asked and no risk of arrest or prosecution. The Safe Haven Baby Box allows anonymity with no penalty.
According to Safe Haven Baby Box’s website, shbb.org, there have been five babies surrendered to boxes since the first was installed in 2015. A baby girl who was surrendered at a Seymour fire station last week was the fifth. There are now 21 Safe Haven Baby Boxes in the state.
Before White River Township’s box, the closest was at a fire station in Decatur Township, on Indianapolis’s southwest side.
Kelsey, founder and chief executive officer of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, started the nationwide program in 2015 because she was abandoned at birth and later adopted.
The box, which cost $10,000 to install, was funded entirely by community donations, Pell said. The fire department will be required to pay an annual $200 service fee, but did not pay for the box itself. It’s something the community wanted, he said.
"Once we got the idea that we wanted to put a baby box in … it was all raised in pretty short order," Pell said.
Department officials planned for the box for more than a year, and Pell said it was part of the new headquarters plans from the very beginning.
"Our job is to save lives," Pell said. "While I hope that a family doesn’t get into such a crisis that they have to use this, I feel like we are very, very blessed for families in our area and throughout the state to have this option."
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What: Unveiling and blessing of the county’s first Safe Haven Baby Box
When: 10:30 a.m. Friday
Where: White River Township Fire Station No. 53, 366 N. Morgantown Road, Greenwood
Fire Chief Jeremy Pell and Safe Haven Baby Boxes Founder and CEO Monica Kelsey will speak during the event, which is free and open to the public.