Bargersville Fire getting baby box, Edinburgh on hold

The Bargersville Fire Department is getting its first baby box this summer, adding a third box to Johnson County.

The Johnson County Health Department this month received approval from the county board of commissioners to spend $16,000 to purchase a Safe Haven Baby Box and install it at the Bargersville Fire Department Station 201 on State Road 135.

This process started when Bargersville Fire officials reached out to Betsy Swearingen, county health department director, about funding the box. She determined that the health department had funds to pay for the entire box and its installation.

The money is coming out of the federal Cities Readiness Initiative, or CRI, grant, which is a preparedness grant the county health department applies for annually. Last year, the department used a lot of that money to purchase mass casualty kits for the Greenwood Fire Department following the Greenwood Park Mall mass shooting. There was some money left over from the 2022-2023 grant to put toward the baby box. The department is also applying for another 2023-2024 CRI grant that could fund an additional baby box in Edinburgh.

The box will be purchased from Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which has over 130 baby boxes in Indiana, including two in Johnson County. It costs $11,000 to purchase and $5,000 to install, Swearingen said.

Indiana’s Safe Haven Law, which passed in 2019, allows anyone to surrender a newborn baby to a 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.

White River Township Fire Department was the first in Johnson County to install a baby box in 2020, and the Franklin Fire Department added one to Station 22 in 2021.

A baby box is a safe way to drop off an infant at one of these locations, as there are many safety protections in it to protect the baby once it is placed inside. It is a safer option than leaving the baby outside in front of the fire station where it may not be found right away, for example.

“When a person is in crisis, when they can’t decide if they want to keep the baby or don’t want to keep the baby. It’s just an anonymous, secure, to give the baby to someone who will want it,” Swearingen said. “It’s just a safe, non-judgemental place to leave your baby to hopefully give it what it needs.”

Once a baby is placed inside the box, which will be 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 inside the station retrieve the baby, evaluate it on site and take it to a hospital for further evaluation. At that point, the Department of Child Services takes custody of the child.

Getting a Safe Haven Baby Box has been a longtime pursuit for the Bargersville Fire Department, said Mike Pruitt, assistant chief.

The station has a place picked out, which will require some construction. Installation will include cutting a space into a wall to place the box, and installing the alert systems. Pruitt expects for it to be installed at the station by July.

“We’re excited about putting something in like this because, you know, we’re far from being just a fire department anymore,” Pruitt said. “We’ve become more of an all hazards department providing various types of services.”

A baby has not been surrendered at the Bargersville Fire Department since Pruitt has been there, but it is good to have that option available for people in crisis. Especially as Bargersville continues the grow, the need could be there, he said.

When he worked at the Wayne Township Fire Department, Pruitt recalled a baby being surrendered to them and left in a trash can. A baby box provides needed security for people who have to surrender their child, for whatever reason, he said.

“No community is immune to this type of event occurring. Whether you’re a small community, a large community, or a rich community, a poor community, I think that it’s a valuable asset to have available for people,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt would like to see a baby box at every department in the county eventually.

The Edinburgh Fire Department was also slated to receive $16,000 from the county health department to buy a Safe Haven Baby Box, but that is in limbo at the moment.

The Edinburgh Town Council does not agree to the terms listed in the contract agreement with Safe Haven, said Dustin Huddleston, the town’s attorney. Some of those terms included placing liability on the town if something were to go wrong with the baby box, but also requiring Edinburgh to pay regular fees to Safe Haven for upkeep, he said.

Edinburgh went through this same issue with Safe Haven in 2021 when the fire department tried to get a baby box then. Huddleston said the town drafted its own agreement, and Safe Haven would not budge on it.

It’s not that Edinburgh does not want a baby box, it just does not want to use Safe Haven as a vendor. The new Fire Station 41 even has a place cut out for a box in its designs.

The town council is exploring other options, and Huddleston was unaware of what those options are, he said. Safe Haven is the primary provider of baby boxes in the state.

“With that entity, we’re done with that. We’re at the end of the road there,” Huddleston said. “We definitely want it, but we couldn’t agree to the terms of what they were proposing.”