When Chief Mick Pawlik got a pager notification that the alarm in the Safe Haven Baby Box at the all-volunteer Coolspring Township Fire Department in Michigan City, Ind., was triggered on Tuesday night, he assumed it was just another false alarm.
The box, which encourages women to safely and anonymously give up unwanted babies without fear of arrest, often throws up false alarms due to being triggered by children and pranksters.
So when Pawlik went to check on the box, he assumed that it was either empty or that someone had placed a racoon or other small animal inside as a Halloween prank.
But he opened it to find a newborn infant with its umbilical cord still attached, wrapped in a sweatshirt.
“I opened it up and that baby just looked me right in the eye,” Pawlik told reporters.
He said the baby, which was about an hour old, appeared to be in good condition and was transported by ambulance to hospital. It will be placed in the custody of the Department of Child Services.
It was the first time a baby had been left in the box since it was installed outside the fire department’s building in April 2016, one of only two such boxes installed in the U.S., with the other located in Woodburn, Ind.
The box was developed by Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a charity set up by Monica Kelsey, who was herself abandoned as an infant.
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From a distance, the boxes don’t look too different from the book drop-off boxes seen outside libraries.
But on the inside, they’re equipped with heating, cooling and an alarm trip that notifies emergency personnel within 30 seconds of the box being opened.
According to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes website, the boxes have been used in developing countries, where they have shown promise in enabling women to anonymously give up babies without fear of backlash.
Two boxes have since been installed in Indiana, which has so-called “safe haven” laws that allow women to give up newborn infants without fear of arrest or prosecution.
“These women love their children and they want to do what’s best for the child but they don’t want to have their faces seen,” says the Safe Haven Baby Boxes website. “The baby boxes take the face-to-face interaction out of the surrender and protects the mother from being seen.”
The fire department’s Assistant Chief Warren Smith thanked the mother for “doing the right thing.”
“She stepped up to the plate and did the right thing by turning the baby into the baby box instead of us finding the baby in a ditch, in the woods or in the dumpster… we hear so many horrible stories,” Smith said.
Pawlik echoed the sentiment.
“It’s the hardest decision she’ll ever make and it was a very wise one… the baby’s doing good and will be in a good home,” Pawlik said.
“We’ve talked, we’re going to name the baby ‘Hope.'”