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Inspector says baby box safe

February 1, 2018

An Allen County Building Department inspection Wednesday found a “baby box” can stay at the Woodburn fire station, even though it didn’t have proper permits when it was installed.

John Caywood, building department commissioner, told The Journal Gazette the inspection found the device as installed complied with the county building code. An inspector was sent to the site after a complaint alleged the lack of permits made the box illegal and it should be removed.

“Everything is OK,” Caywood said. “It’s safe (to use).” 

A baby box allows people to surrender a baby for foster care within 30 days of birth while maintaining anonymity. Proponents say the boxes can save infants’ lives by giving desperate parents an alternative to placing a newborn in the trash or another unsafe place. 

The inspection was prompted by an anonymous telephone complaint last week that was followed up Wednesday morning with an emailed complaint from Michael and Jean Morrisey of Massachusetts who said they represented Baby Safe Haven New England.

The two have been campaigning for some time against the boxes and Monica Kelsey of Woodburn, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, the nonprofit organization instrumental in the local installation.

In July, Michael Morrisey was banned by an Allen County civil court judge’s injunction from contacting Kelsey, her family or the organization after she claimed his conduct defamed her and caused her to “live in fear.” He now faces a hearing to assess monetary damages in that case.  

Assistant Building Commissioner Roger Clark met with Maumee Township Trustee Vicki Thompson and Kelsey at the site and did the inspection, Caywood said. 

Caywood said permits were required because the box required a hole in the building’s exterior wall and electricity. Penalties were assessed, and Fort Wayne contractor Shambaugh & Son agreed to be listed on permits and “take responsibility for the site,” Caywood said.

However, the department can waive penalties if work is up to code. “Our goal is always to get voluntary compliance, and we did here,” Caywood said.

Kelsey this week told The Journal-Gazette she believed the box met all rules when it was installed.

In an email Wednesday to the newspaper and the building department, Morrisey said the boxes have never been approved by Underwriters Laboratories, which oversees electrical components.

Caywood, however, said that is outside the scope of the county building code.

Morrisey has called the boxes “dangerous” and a “piece of junk.” He claimed in the most recent emails that baby boxes had never been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission but needed to be.

That could not be independently verified Wednesday. However, Kelsey’s attorney, Nicholas Podlaski of Beers Mallers Backs & Salin, Fort Wayne, said Tuesday the FDA claim was unfounded. 

Indiana law allows babies to be surrendered anonymously without fear of prosecution at hospitals, emergency medical service providers, law enforcement agencies and fire departments.  A law passed last year allowed hospitals to install baby boxes, but none has been installed.

That law also grandfathered the baby boxes at fire stations in Woodburn and LaPorte County.

A new bill allowing all fire stations to install baby boxes is pending.