The last thing Benton firefighter Tyler Grubb expected during his May 9 shift at Fire Station No. 3 was to hear the baby box alarm.
It was 9:27 p.m. on a Tuesday when the alarm at the fire station alerted personnel to the presence of an abandoned infant inside the station’s Safe Haven box. Responding to the alarm, firefighters found an infant, less than 24 hours old, along with a brief note.
“I’ve been here for a year now and I haven’t had anything like that happen yet,” said Grubb, who retrieved the baby from the box. “It was a wonderful night being able to take care of that baby.”
Grubb stayed with the baby at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for most of the night.
The mother had been in contact with the National Safe Baby Boxes to ensure her anonymity as well as the well being of the infant.
According to Matt Thibault, the marketing and events coordinator for the city of Benton, the mother traveled from another state to reach the safe haven box.
“She obviously had to do research to come that far, so it wasn’t some hasty decision that she made. I think that’s admirable of her. We know that the mom and baby are healthy, and that’s all we need to know,” said Thibault.
Safe Haven boxes, also known as “baby boxes,” provide a legal and anonymous option for parents in crisis to safely surrender their child.
The Safe Haven box at Benton Fire Station No. 3, installed in 2019, has only been triggered once before this occurrence, in May 2020. Benton has another box placed at Benton Fire Station No. 6, and there are currently 16 in the state.
The baby boxes in Benton are a part of a wider program provided by Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which was founded by Monica Kelsey in 2016.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes' mission is to prevent illegal abandonment of newborns by educating and raising awareness of the safe haven laws. Safe Haven Baby Boxes has a 24-hour national hotline (1-866-99BABY1) for parents in crisis and offers options and resources, including the Baby Boxes as a last resort option for women who want to maintain complete anonymity.
"As an organization, our goal is to not only protect and to ensure that a newborn is safe and healthy, but to walk alongside the birth parent letting them know they are not alone," said Kevin Albin, director of social media for Safe Haven Baby Boxes, in an email on May 24.
"Since 2016, we have blessed 147 Baby Boxes, including Cabot, Arkansas last week. Our National Crisis line has taken over 8000 calls and has helped ensure 131 safe surrenders directly to personnel at various locations nationwide. There have been 29 Baby Box surrenders, including the most recent one in Benton, Arkansas since 2017," Albin said.
Baby boxes are installed in the exterior walls of designated law enforcement offices, fire stations or hospitals. They have an exterior door that automatically locks upon placing the newborn inside, and an interior door which allows a medical staff member to secure the infant from inside.
Safe haven laws vary by state, but their general purpose is to provide a safe way for parents to surrender their rights as the parents of a newborn. While each state has its own variation of safe haven laws, as of now, only 15 states have implemented safe haven baby boxes for this specific purpose.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services oversees the implementation of safe haven laws within the state. According to their website, a parent can give up custody of a baby 30 days or younger legally and anonymously. Designated locations for surrender include hospitals, sheriff or state police offices, and local fire or police stations that are manned for 24 hours a day.
When a baby is surrendered at a safe haven location, no personal information is required from the parent, although they may choose to share the baby’s age and health status, as was the recent case in Benton. The Department of Human Services immediately takes custody of the child and places them in a foster or pre-adoptive home.
Thibault said the chain of command and custody for the child once he or she has been placed in the box. The box is temperature-controlled and has a series of three alarms that go off in a specific order to immediately alert emergency responders, while keeping the child fully secure while giving the parent their desired anonymity.
When you first open the front door of the box a timed alarm goes off, giving the parent time to drop the child off anonymously and leave the premises. Then, there is a motion-detecting laser beam that activates when a hand or the child passes through the box. Lastly, when the pressure plate that sits underneath the bassinet is triggered and the door is closed, the unit locks up and sets off the last alarm, contacting first responders.
Officers on the scene were immediately notified, leaving the infant alone in the box for no more than 30 seconds, said Thibault.
Responsibility for the child then passes on to the next line of custody, usually a medical facility or a representative from the DHS.
“I think people are just happy that the child is safe,” said Thibault of the public response.
In the near future, Benton plans to build a new fire station in the Hurricane Creek area, where they intend to apply for and install another baby box. Additionally, the city of Cabot announced on May 16 that they will be putting in a baby box at the fire department near the city center, making it the 17th baby box in the state.