Carroll County launched its first Safe Haven Baby Box, housed at Carrollton Fire Department, on Nov. 9 — the 24th Baby Box in Kentucky and the 181st in the United States.
Carrollton Fire Chief Robert Hofmann said the Baby Box is “a safe place” where mothers who feel like they need to give up their baby can do so “without getting into any kind of trouble.” As long as the child is less than 30 days old and unharmed, the mother can anonymously and without any prosecution, give up her baby to a safe home without facing neglect or abandonment charges.
Plans to develop a box in Carrollton began when Lisa Klee and LeAnn Hill approached the city council, Hofmann, and Police Chief Mike Willhoite in the summer of 2022 asking for approval of a Baby Box in a suitable location in Carrollton.
“They were looking for a location, whether it be fire stations or EMS buildings like an ambulance service,” Hofmann said. “It needs to be in a place that’s manned 24 hours a day.”
The Carrollton Fire Department, which shares the county’s 911 dispatch and is staffed 24 hours day met that requirement and the request was approved in the fall of 2023.
The Baby Box, installed at no cost the to the city due to donations from individuals and businesses who quickly raised $6,266.
Hofmann became the chief inspector and overseer of the Baby Box project, working closely with contractor Jim Riley of Jim’s Construction to help install the box, which took almost six months. He also worked with John Battaglia, an electrician from Kentucky Utilities, who worked to install the alarm system that immediately notifies first responders with the box has been opened and a baby surrendered.
Hofmann also communicated with Safe Haven on the project, conducted seven consecutive days of alarm testing to make sure the box was fully operational and reliable and trained local first responder on how to handle a baby being surrendered.
“The training was just a little over an hour long. I sent that training information to law enforcement and to Carroll County Animal Services so they were on board with how thing would work and how that takes place,” Hofmann said, adding that Carroll County EMS, the police department, dispatch, sheriff’s office, and fire department were also involved in the training.
Prior to the ceremonial opening, signs were installed at the Baby Box including a crisis hotline number below the outside door. A ‘Do Not Use’ sign remained on the door until the unit was fully operational on the date of the unveiling on Nov. 9 when representatives of Safe Haven Baby Boxes came to Carrollton to inspect the box, make sure the alarms and lock work and pronounce the box ready.
“It was more than I expected as far as participation,” Hofmann said. “Everyone that came was very positive.”
The ceremony included many speakers, including Monica Kelsey, founder of the Baby Boxes; Carrollton Mayor Robb Adams; Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life; Klee, the organizer of the boxes; Judge-Executive David Wilhoite; and John Elardo of English Baptist Church who did a blessing of the Baby Box.
The Carrollton Baby Box is located on the southwest corner of the fire department located at Eighth and Clay streets in Carrollton. When the door is opened, the dispatch center receives an alarm so that law enforcement can be notified. Once the baby is safely placed in the bassinet and the door of the box is closed, there is a 60-second delay before a second alarm sounds signaling for EMS to be paged to check the box to make sure the baby is in the carrier and safe. Hofmann will then be called and updated on the situation.
There is also a packet of information, in both English and Spanish, for the parent to read and determine if they are certain about the decision to surrender the child. It also includes contact information if they wish to get their child back, the number for the National Safe Haven Hotline, and more. The box is climate controlled for the child’s safety with donated baby blankets and a small hat to keep the child warm until help arrives.
“To me, if this saves one baby, it’s worth every penny of it in hard work,” Hofmann said.