Ind. EMS, fire stations play role in 'safe haven baby boxes'

Four boxes are scheduled for installation in Indiana and Ohio next year

By Amy Lavalley

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — After hearing a newborn girl had been placed in the Safe Haven Baby Box at the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department near Michigan City on Nov. 9, Monica Kelsey started crying.

"Now this little girl is going to grow up because of our efforts, and she wouldn't have," said Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes and a firefighter in Woodburn, outside of Fort Wayne. She was abandoned as an infant and fought to get clearance for the boxes from the Indiana Department of Child Services.

That call was the first use of the Coolspring Township box since it was installed in April 2016. The second box in Indiana, in Woodburn, has yet to be used.

Kelsey said she's received inquiries from across the country about the boxes, including more than 250 calls and emails in one day. The boxes provide complete anonymity for a baby's mother and a silent alarm alerts emergency medical services personnel that the box is in use.

Four boxes are scheduled for installation in Indiana and Ohio next year, although Kelsey declines to be specific about where.

Local officials said they would be willing to consider the boxes.

"I would have to say it would not ultimately be my decision, but in my opinion, it would be worth entertaining this, or a similar instrument, as it is likely better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it," said Chesterton Police Chief David Cincoski.

"If there is the opportunity to save or prolong life, as to the alternative, it would be worthy of an investigative look."

The day after the infant was left in, a passerby found what emergency medical service personnel confirmed were the remains of childbirth in a portable toilet along the Prairie Duneland bicycle trail in Chesterton. Cincoski said it was being investigated to determine the welfare of mother and baby, not as a criminal matter. There was no update yet on whether the birth was related to the baby in the box, he said.

Also interested in learning more about the boxes is Crown Point Fire Chief David Crane, though he said he's unsure of the demand since the one in Coolspring Township went unused for a year and a half.

"Fire stations have been a safe haven to drop off your child for 15 years, and we've not had anyone do that in Crown Point," he said. "The twist to that is the anonymity" provided by the boxes.

Under Indiana's Safe Haven Law, an unwanted infant can be left anonymously at hospitals, police and fire stations, without fear of prosecution.

As long as the baby has no signs of intentional abuse, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. After examination, the infant is placed with a caregiver through Child Protective Services.

Crane said he isn't opposed to looking into the boxes, although the Crown Point station is centrally located and staffed around the clock, except when firefighters are out on a call. The alarm in the box would alert personnel about a baby and Crane said he would want to know about any cost and responsibility for maintenance of it and the box's heating system.

"I have a lot of information I need to gather, but I'm not opposed to it," he said.

For Kelsey, the Coolspring Township case reiterated the need for the cause she supports.

"This was a huge boost for the Safe Haven community on education and awareness because more people are aware of the Safe Haven Law because of what this mother did," she said.

The box, Kelsey and Coolspring Township fire officials said, worked as it was supposed to—giving anonymity to the mother and care for the baby.

The boxes are meant as a last resort for mothers who cannot hand an infant over to authorities face to face.

"I don't think they don't care what happens to their child," Kelsey said. "If this is all they can do, then this is enough."

Copyright 2017 Post-Tribune

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