In February of this year, the Fort Smith Fire Department was contacted by Sharon Kersh of Fort Smith about installing a Safe Haven Baby Box at one of the fire stations, FSFD Battalion Chief Darrell Clark said in a memo to Fire Chief Phil Christensen.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved the installation of a Safe Haven Baby Box in Fort Smith at the regular board meeting Tuesday night (July 20).
After being contacted, Clark began looking into the idea. He contacted Safe Haven Baby Boxes through its website and eventually talked to Monica Kelsey from the company about the process of adding a baby box to a Fort Smith fire station. The Safe Haven Baby Box is a box that allows a parent to anonymously surrender a baby. The box will be installed in an exterior wall of Fire Station 11, 8900 Massard Road, Clark said.
“There is an exterior door that, when opened, causes a silent alarm to be transmitted to our dispatch center. There is a bassinet inside for the child to be placed in,” Clark said of the baby box.
The bassinet has an electronic beam going across it that when broken sends a second silent alarm to dispatch. After the exterior door is closed, a third silent alarm is sent to dispatch, who notifies the fire station. Fire station personnel then retrieve the baby from the box through an interior door, Clark said.
“The fire personnel would then contact EMS and medically assess the child. The child would be transported to a hospital for further assessment/treatment,” he said.
Director Neal Martin asked why Fire Station 11 was chosen for the baby box. Station 11 is the newest station and is located on the east side of Fort Smith in the Chaffee Crossing area. He asked why a location nearer the city’s homeless population or other areas where the need might be more were not chosen.
Christensen said the boxes must be installed in a location that offers complete anonymity for the parent with the drop off in an area that is not easily observed or detected. Fire Station 11 is the only one in the city that meets those criteria.
“We also looked at stations 5 and 3 on the north side of the city, but the building has to be climate controlled on the inside area of the box. Both of those don’t have that because the engine bays are not climate controlled,” Christensen said.
Eugene and Sharon Kersh have offered to cover the initial fee of $10,000 for the Safe Haven Baby Box. Local contractor Donnie Wise and his wife, Glenda, have offered to cover the cost of installation by donating materials and labor. Wise helped Clark select the best location to install the baby box — Fire Station 11, Clark said. He said he has asked Jeramy Ransom with Motorola Solutions if one of the FSFD current systems in the fire station can be utilized for the baby box to communicate with the dispatch center.
“If we are able to use the station’s door access system, it will save the cost of monitoring a separate alarm system,” Clark said. “After we have the alarm communications figured out, we will know exactly how much money will need to be raised. There are several firefighters that, along with their spouses, have offered to assist with our fundraising efforts. We will cover any additional installation expenses and fees associated with the baby box through donations. We will raise additional funds for advertising our baby box being put online.”
Safe Haven Baby Box charges an initial fee of $10,000 for the boxes, which includes pre-installation services including location examination, as well as installation services of inspection and training and post-installation services of marketing and advertising, a 24/7 hotline available to the community and efforts to support raising awareness on a local, state, and national levels. The company also charges a $200 annual fee that includes unlimited repairs and parts replacement in the case of malfunction.
“I think this baby box is a fantastic thing, and I’m happy we have folks who are willing to donate the cost of it,” Martin said.
The Arkansas Safe Haven law allows a parent to bring a child, 30 days old or younger to an employee at any hospital emergency room, law enforcement agency, fire department that is staffed 24 hours a day, or a designated newborn safety device (baby box) location anonymously and without facing prosecution for endangering or abandoning a child. Once a baby is given up, the baby is turned over to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. There are baby boxes located in Benton, Conway, Jonesboro, Rogers and Springdale.
Clark said the Safe Haven Baby Box should be installed and operational by the end of the year.
Since 2017, there have been 18 babies left in Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Christensen said. However, in the past 10 years, there have been 931 babies left on the steps of police and fire stations throughout the country, he added.
“Hopefully we will never see (a baby left) in Fort Smith, but there is a need for this,” Christensen said.