City board approves baby box for fire station

The Central Fire Station will house a secure drop-off for newborns abandoned under the law shielding their parents from criminal liability.

A resolution the Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted Tuesday authorized the city to enter into a lease and service agreement with Safe Haven Baby Boxes, the Indiana nonprofit that provides resources for mothers in crisis.

The resolution also approved a memorandum of understanding with the Knights of Columbus Council 6419. The local chapter of the Catholic fraternal organization will pay for the box, its installation and maintenance.

According to the MOU, the box will cost about $11,000. Installation is $5,000 to $7,000, with $350 in annual maintenance costs.

"It's something we never want to have to use, but we want to have that option in the event a women does need to place her child in there," Deputy Grand Knight Dayton Myers told the board. "We're excited about this in our community. Knights of Columbus are paying for it at no cost to the city and paying ongoing maintenance costs."

Under the state's Safe Haven Act, parents can anonymously surrender newborns 30 days or younger to a medical provider, law enforcement agency or fire department and face no criminal liability.

Fire Chief Ed Davis told the board an alarm will sound inside the Central Station and police station soon after the newborn is placed in the temperature-controlled box. After being retrieved, the child will be evaluated at a local hospital and made a ward of the state.

The law requires the alarm system be tested once a week and checked twice a day.

According to information from the Department of Human Services, Benton Fire Station No. 3 is the closest baby box to Hot Springs. The Central Station location will give the state 10 newborn safety devices. The Safe Haven Act was amended in 2019 to allow fire departments staffed 24 hours a day to house the devices.

"Benton had a child who was placed in the baby box and adopted out and is living a good life now," Davis told the board.

"There's no shortage of people who want to have newborns. If there is a mother who is in distress because she has been abandoned by the father or has bad economic times, the safe haven laws protect that mother up to 30 days after birth. The fire department believes in the preservation of all life, and we think this is a good fit with our mission," he said.

Parents' identities are kept confidential under the law, shared only with law enforcement and prosecutors for the purposes of investigating and prosecuting abuse or neglect.

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