Carmel Fire Department Awarded for Safe Haven Program Success
Last month, Carmel Fire Department was recognized for its work with the nonprofit Safe Haven Baby Box program and was presented with the Hope Award that was received by CFD Chief David Haboush and CFD Division Chief of Community Relations John Moriarty.
I spoke with both chiefs about how the Safe Haven Baby Box program works and how CFD Station #45 has been a crucial part of the national program’s success.
What Is The Indiana Safe Haven Law?
The Indiana Safe Haven Law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution, up to 30 days after birth. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Read the full description of the law online at www.in.gov and click on IC 31-34-2.5 Chapter 2.5. Emergency Custody of Certain Abandoned Children.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes was founded by Monica Kelsey, who was abandoned as an infant. Kelsey has dedicated her life to helping mothers in crisis and giving them a safe, anonymous way to surrender their babies without fear of persecution or judgment. Safe Haven Baby Boxes’ mission is to prevent illegal abandonment of newborns by raising awareness, offering a 24-hour hotline for mothers in crisis and offering the Safe Haven Baby Boxes a last resort option for women who want to maintain complete anonymity. Safe Haven Baby Boxes travels to fire stations and hospitals to train first responders on the Safe Haven Law. The organization has found that many of the first responders are familiar with the law but need more training on how to handle safe surrenders and their response to mothers in crisis.
How Do the Baby Boxes Work?
CFD Station #45 installed their SHBB on December 28th, 2018. It went 1,194 days before it received its first surrendered baby. Haboush and Moriarty shared that the baby boxes are safe incubators that have alarm systems that notify 911 and the fire department as soon as a baby is placed inside. The baby boxes lock from the outside once the baby has been placed inside, preventing the person surrendering the child from access afterwards.
There are avenues for the biological parent(s) to regain custody of the baby, but there are several safeguards and processes in place out of protection for the child. Under Indiana’s Safe Haven Law, surrendered infants are placed in the custody of the state’s Department of Child Services once they are released from the hospital.
The baby boxes are heated and/or cooled, and the CFD Station #45 has a baby changing station set up right next to the baby box so that EMTs can immediately tend to the infant’s medical needs and prepare the infant for transport via ambulance to the hospital where it will receive a through exam and any necessary medical treatments.
Inside of the CFD SHBB, there is also an orange bag labeled “Please take this.” Moriarty shared, “When mom, dad or whoever places the baby in the box, they’ll see this bag. In it there is information and resources for mom to get treatment, explanations on how to take of herself if she’s experiencing any medical issues and how to take care of all that. The first two of the three mothers [who placed their infants in the CFD SHBB] took these [bags].”
CFD Setting the Example
Although it certainly wasn’t the intent of CFD to break records and to be the role models for the SHBB program, its success with the program in 2022 has clinched the department’s place as a leader and mentor to other fire departments, police departments and hospitals throughout the nation who are participants in the SHBB program.
“Essentially, SHBB is an opportunity for parents in crisis to surrender their child in a safe environment that will be able to meet and take care of the needs of the child,” Haboush shared. “John [Moriarty] and I received the [Hope] award for the work that CFD has done for this program. In March of this year, the first baby came, and in April of this year, the second baby came. Then the third baby came to our box in May of this year. The nonprofit’s work aligns perfectly with what fire service is all about. It is about preserving human life and taking care of human beings.”
Haboush added, “To date, we are the only station to have received 3 babies in the nation and we were the 7th [department] in the country to install a SHBB. And now there are over 122 boxes installed across the nation in 8 to 10 states. The program has really grown.”
Moriarty mentioned that in all three instances where infants were surrendered at Station #45’s baby box, only the first of two alarms were triggered, which means the infant was retrieved by a member of CFD in less than minute of the first alarm going off.
“There is an object sensor in the box that can’t be seen with the naked eye,” Moriarty explained. “The sensor triggers the first alarm that notifies [Hamilton County] dispatch. If the baby is in [the box] longer than a minute, it will set off a second alarm to the dispatch and the department as well. All three babies were retrieved in less than a minute, and that second alarm has never been activated. Another interesting point: all three babies were surrendered during the day. Generally, babies are dropped off in the evening. And all three instances happened in less than a 6-week period.”
Moriarty shared that it has become a tradition that the department shares a birthday cake — made by Moriarty’s wife and daughter — to honor the infant’s birth and safe arrival to Station #45. He has also worked with his fellow chiefs to create an operating manual that has since been endorsed by Kelsey and the SHBB organization. CFD has shared this baby box operating manual with other departments and hospitals, and it is available upon request by any participating SHBB facility.
Haboush concluded, “It is imperative that we continue to educate people and get the word out about the baby box program. And if the mom needs help, we need her to know that we are not going to walk away from mom if she needs help. We will get her connected with the right places, counselors, etc. If mom or the parents need help at the fire station, we will not turn them away.”
Carmel Fire Department Station #45 is located at 10701 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN, 46280.
For more information on the Safe Haven Baby Box organization, visit shbb.org.