Troy adds ‘baby box’ at fire station

TROY – Troy’s new fire station will house Miami County’s first “baby box” to allow parents to surrender a newborn safely and anonymously if they cannot provide care.

The surrender provision using a “newborn safety incubator” is included in the state Safe Haven law. It allows for voluntary legal surrender until the child is 30 days old.

The secure, temperature controlled box is located in the new fire station lobby at 110 E. Canal St. near downtown. Once in use, it will be accessible 24 hours a day.

When an infant is placed in the box, it is locked so it cannot be opened from the lobby and an alert is issued to those in the fire station. If the alert is not answered in a certain time period, it goes to the county Central Communication Center for action.

A special code will be used to alert personnel a child has been left, said Fire Chief Matthew Simmons.

The department hopes to have the box ready for service, if needed, yet this month. Final testing of the alert system was done the week of Aug. 8

“We are in a lifesaving business. This is not a political issue. I know Roe vs. Wade is a very political, divisive issue,” Simmons said.

“I get that some people may look at this differently. But I think if they could put themselves in that young mother’s shoes … at the end of the day if they don’t have the means to provide the child still has a chance,” he said.

Accompanying the box will be a form on which the parent is asked to provide, if they are willing, basic health information to help in the care of the child. There also will be an information sheet about the Safe Haven Law from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services along with other information for the parent(s) about resources available to them as far as social services.

Simmons said he has a couple of personal components with the installation of the box. One is his son, who was adopted at birth. In addition in 2018, a firefighter who passed away at age 38 approached the chief with the concept about six months before his death.

“Jason Holfinger brought this idea to us. He said this would be a great thing to have the opportunity to have a mother have a safe place and walk way knowing – not hoping - that that baby is going to the next step … to have that chance at life that maybe they cannot provide.”

Holfinger’s photo sits on a table inside the fire station, next to the baby box.

At the time, it was pretty costly to outfit the fire station or stations with a box, Simmons said. The city has three fire stations.

“When we were designing a fire station that would serve this community for the next 50 years-plus, we knew it was an option that was worth the cost,” he said. The unit cost was around $10,000.

The department will be working to provide information in the community on the availability of the box. There are less than 10 baby boxes in Ohio with officials in Lebanon saying this summer one was being installed in a new fire station.

Simmons said unexpected discussions have been held the past week after a citizen in southern Ohio pointed out a discrepancy in the Ohio Revised Code Safe Haven law and the Ohio Administrative Code and Department of Health, which specifies someone has to be on station 24 hours in case the box is use. The ORC says it must be monitored. At times, the Troy station isn’t staffed if all personnel have been called to an emergency, Simmons said. In that case, the Communication Center would alert other department contacts.

Several fire department leaders with the boxes who met via Zoom last week are working with state legislators and the Department of Health to resolve the discrepancy through a change the ODH director can make in the administrative code, Simmons said.

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.

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