A fire hall in Alberta is the first to provide another option for surrendering children in Canada, and firefighters there hope it spreads across the country.
The Strathmore Fire Department and the Strathmore Emergency Service Members Association have worked together to bring a lifesaving project to Canada, and now Strathmore, Alta. will be the first fire hall in Canada to use it.
Captain of the Strathmore Fire Department, Eric Alexander, explained that this new program will save the lives of those who cannot defend themselves.
“I was fortunate enough last night to get in front of Strathmore Town Council and present a project that the Strathmore Emergency Services Members Association has been working on for the last two years, which is Hope’s Cradle," Alexander said in an interview last week. "It is going to be the first safe surrender baby box in a fire hall in Canada, so we're pretty excited about that.”
A safe surrender box allows a mother to place a baby in a safe box if she is unable to care for it. The device is a drop-off box where a person can place something inside a building when it is locked.
"They're of the strong belief that babies are abandoned a lot more frequently than we know and often in rural locations. Their bodies are most likely never found..."
When a mother opens the door of the safe surrender box, a silent alarm is triggered allowing emergency service members to start responding to the call. The alarm is silent to not scare or draw attention to the mother. The mother places the baby inside the bassinet in the box and, once she closes the door, it locks automatically so no one will be able to gain access from outside.
The Fire Department is not staffed 24/7, so when the alarm is triggered, volunteer members will start making their way to the hall. The box is heated, so the baby will be in no discomfort in the winter months.
“We'll retrieve the baby and then, from there, care will be transferred over to the Alberta Health Services (AHS) ambulance system where they will be transported into Calgary based on AHS protocols. They will go to a hospital in Calgary and, from there, the child would be placed, basically, in the care of the Government of Alberta until they are adopted out through the regular process,” Captain Alexander continued.
He explained that this idea was inspired by tragic events that happened in 2017 in Calgary when a baby was found deceased in a dumpster on Christmas Eve just hours after being born.
Being a new father himself at the time, Alexander felt passionate about installing a safe surrender box in his own community. He, the fire department, and the Strathmore Emergency Services Members Association, did much of the legal leg work to have this box installed.
He mentioned that these types of boxes are seen mostly in the United States, but the laws in Canada around abandoning a baby in a safe place did not clarify if the mother would be criminally charged.
“I saw a news story of a not-for-profit organization in the United States that had these Safe Haven baby boxes, so I contacted them, and found out there's a lot of legal differences between the United States and Canada, as far as Safe Haven abandonment laws go. It wasn't quite as simple for us just to grab their project and work with it up here, so we kind of had to make our own that suits the Canadian laws system.”
The fire department reached out to the RCMP and a legal team and was able to work out how to bring this box to Canada.
In talking with the RCMP, Alexander found out that local RCMP have never had a case of abandonment like the one in Calgary years ago, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
“In my conversation with Calgary Police Service Members, they're of the strong belief that babies are abandoned a lot more frequently than we know and often in rural locations. Their bodies are most likely never found, so they were in full support and thought that it would be a great initiative and also, hopefully, capture those ones that we still might not know about that have been abandoned elsewhere.”
It became clear that work needed to be done to have these boxes in the community, so Alexander and his team started to get to work. They, eventually, partnered with Gems for Gems, a Calgary charity with a mission to end the cycle of domestic abuse.
Now that funds are secured, the fire department has made quick work on the construction of the box; construction will start this Saturday. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is to be held soon after in mid-December.
“We are really hoping that it takes off and, in 10 years, we'll see them East Coast to West Coast through Canada.”
The Hope's Cradle is only to be used as an absolute last resort and Alexander said that the community of Strathmore has resources to help mothers in need. This will, hopefully, save a life if it ever should be needed.