Lt. Chuck Kohler was just leaving his house Sunday night when his department pager went off with a medical alarm.
Kohler, a father of five who lives nearby, was at the Coolspring Volunteer Fire Department within a minute.
After entering, “I heard a child crying,” Kohler said.
He found a newborn in the station’s Safe Haven Baby Box, put on protective gloves, and took the baby out, holding the infant until medics arrived to transport the child to a local hospital. The baby, he added, appeared to be OK.
“I don’t think there’s a word for the emotion,” he said during a Monday news conference at the station near Michigan City, flanked by fellow members of the department and Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
“I was happy, ecstatic to hear the crying, to know the baby is breathing,” Kohler said. “It was exciting, an adrenaline rush that this is really happening.”
For the second time in five months, someone anonymously placed a newborn in the station’s box, one of two in the state. The box, fire officials said, worked as it was supposed to, setting off a medical alarm on firefighter’s pagers when it was opened and keeping the baby warm and secure for the brief period of time until someone arrived at the station and, more importantly, protecting the identity of the person who dropped off the child.
Firefighters declined to provide the gender, age or other details about the infant, whose umbilical cord was still attached. The child, who officials said appeared to be well taken care of, is in the custody of Child Protective Services.
On Nov. 7, Chief Mick Pawlik found a newborn baby girl in the station’s box, which was installed almost two years ago. The girl, who firefighters dubbed “Baby Hope,” is with a family that’s going through the adoption process, Kelsey said.
“She’s healthy, happy and beautiful,” she said. “That is the goal.”
The only other baby box in Indiana is at the fire station in Woodburn, near Fort Wayne, where Kelsey, who was given up by her mother as a newborn, is a firefighter. That box hasn’t been used yet and Kelsey said she doesn’t expect it to be, since it was set up as a pilot.
Assistant Chief Warren Smith heard Kelsey promoting the boxes on the radio and reached out to her about having one installed at the station because “it hurts your heart when you hear these stories” about mothers abandoning their newborns.
The station’s location is not far from Interstate 94 and Chicago, he added.
“This one was strategically picked. Obviously, we did a good job,” she said.
Officials stressed Monday, as they did in November, that leaving a newborn in a baby box should be considered a last resort. Under state law, infants under 30 days old can be left at police and fire stations or hospitals without a parent being prosecuted, Kelsey said.
The boxes provide something those options don’t, and that’s complete anonymity.
“We know there are some moms who don’t want their faces seen,” she said.
Under Indiana’s Safe Haven Law, a person can give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of prosecution, according to the Indiana Department of Child Services website.
As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Once the baby is examined and given medical treatment, if needed, DCS will take the baby into custody through Child Protective services, where it will be placed with a caregiver, according to the website.
The box isn’t without controversy, Smith said, because the infants are being left at a fire station that isn’t staffed, but the box is heated and secure, and opening it from the outside of the station triggers the department’s pager system.
“This is a tool to save lives, and that’s all we care about,” he said.
Kelsey had to lobby for the boxes to be allowed in Indiana, and they are also permitted in Pennsylvania and Ohio, she said.
Given that a second newborn has been left at the Coolspring station, Kohler, who named the infant “Baby Grace,” said the message is getting out that the box is a positive thing.
“Honestly, the hope is that it is something that would never get used because of the situation behind it,” he said.
Kelsey thanked the infant’s mother.
“A child who is adopted and loved – it’s amazing,” Kelsey said. “There are thousands of babies in Indiana looking for forever families and this is just one of them.”