In Michigan City, there is a box at the front of one fire station, rigged with a silent alarm and motion sensors.
They’ve only been there for about a year, and it’s not unusual for it to go unused.
So when Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Chief Mick Pawlik got an alert on his pager just a few weeks ago, he was let down.
He was still in his pajamas, it was Halloween night, and he just knew “it was going to be a bogus call.”
“It’s going to be a false trip. I’ll reset everything at let the alarm company know,” Pawlik recalled. He and firefighter Nick Fekete arrived at the station together as protocol required, and hoped for the best.
The station was dark when they arrived, so Pawlik turned on the lights to see the closed box, thinking someone must have “put a raccoon or a cat or a dog in there or something.”
“I’m going to the box really nervously, because I’m thinking something’s going to jump out at me,” Pawlik said.
The box is heated and well insulated, and there are holes through which you can look inside at the contents. And Pawlik caught a glimpse of a sweatshirt.
“And I see this little, bitty arm,” and stopped cold. Thinking it might be a doll, Pawlik opened the box.
“I open it up and that baby just looked me right in the eyes.”
Immediately, he started yelling.
“I’m hollering at [Fekete] to get me my gloves,” he said. “We’re trained for this, but in a real life situation adrenaline kicks in and I’m just not thinking straight. I’m hollering at him to get me gloves—there’s gloves right on top, we have a kit. I’m so excited … I’m babbling on.”
There was a baby placed inside the Safe Haven box, barely an hour old, with its umbilical cord still attached and not yet fully cleaned off.
In the firefighters’ initial excitement, Pawlik hadn’t noticed that Fekete ended up getting locked out of the station as the door had closed on his quest for gloves, until he looked up again.
Meanwhile, the baby was calm and quiet, undisturbed and properly warmed inside the box.
The Safe Haven Baby Box is the brainchild of Monica Kelsey, and there are only two official ones in the country. Many states have a Safe Haven law, which allows newborns to be anonymously surrendered to the state. But these insulated boxes designed for it are a rarity.
Kelsey told NWI Times she had been abandoned at a hospital herself in Ohio in 1973, just hours after it was born. And this recent newborn found by firefighter Pawlik was the first baby dropped off in one of her boxes.
“It worked flawlessly last night,” Kelsey said.
Once Pawlik registered what was going on, he was just elated.
La Porte County, where the fire station is located, had reports of five abandoned babies over just the last few years. Usually when firefighters and medics are called, it means there’s bad news—sometimes tragic news. The firefighters of the volunteer company shared that they all have heard those horrible stories of finding a baby in a dumpster or a ditch.
But the box has no cameras, no trouble, and no judgement.
This time—“this just happens to be a story that turned out really well,” Assistant Chief Warren Smith said at a press conference.
“We have nothing but praise for this girl,” Pawlik said of the baby’s mother.
“I have never been into an emergency room where people are smiling—last night there were smiles on everyone’s faces.”
“It was something I’ll never forget,” he said. “As a fireman, a medic, you see all the bad stuff in life. This—I’m elated.”
Learn more about Safe Haven Baby Boxes here: