POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – After two babies were left abandoned outdoors in Polk County this year, the Polk County Fire Rescue Chief said he felt something more needed to be done.
“Our goal is to make sure the wellbeing of the newborn is taken care of and the appropriate care is rendered,” said Polk County Fire Rescue Chief Dr. Hezedean Smith.
All 49 Polk Fire Rescue stations, just like hospitals and emergency rooms, are considered “safe havens.”
Those are locations that accept newborn babies through 7 days old without questions asked. By law, the babies must be handed to a person at the fire station, not left outside.
Chief Smith said it is an option that should only be used as a last resort.
“Without fear of reprisal or prosecution for that matter, we want to make sure that we have that opportunity to make sure the baby’s safe,” he said.
Chief Smith said that since he was sworn-in within the last year, one baby has been left safely at one of the county’s fire stations.
However, in two other cases this year in Polk County, newborn babies were left abandoned alone outside.
In January, a resident called 911 after hearing a newborn baby cry in the woods. That baby survived.
In May, a newborn was found deceased in a dumpster in Lakeland.
After those instances, Chief Smith had conversations about how to make the public more aware of the safe haven law.
The department has added new decals to all 82 emergency response vehicles, ambulances and trucks with information and the phone number to the “A Safe Haven for Newborns” organization.
“There’s over 22 million people in the state of Florida so it’s very, very difficult that everybody’s going to be reached in their moment of need,” said Nick Silverio, founder of “A Safe Haven for Newborns.”
Silverio said his organization receives 2,000 calls a year from people seeking more information about the law.
According to Silverio, 371 have been left at safe haven locations in Florida since 2001.
The two babies abandoned outdoors in Polk County this year, he said, were the first such cases in Florida in three years.
“That breaks our heart because our mission basically is to save babies from being abandoned,” said Silverio.
Silverio called the new decal program with Polk County Fire Rescue a “tremendous partnership.”
Chief Smith said he is looking into incorporating Safe Haven Baby Boxes into new fire stations, something that has been debated in the Florida legislature this year.