MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An ordinance that would designate the Norwood Fire Station in Morgantown as a child safe-surrender site is now a part of the city council’s agenda.
The ordinance would allow for the service to be provided at the fire station, which would include enhanced video monitoring of the station so children aged 30 days or younger could be safely surrendered anonymously. The proposed establishment of the fire station as a child surrender site follows parameters included in the passing of the state code during the 2023 West Virginia Legislative Session allowing for the designation of such sites.
“If someone is facing a crisis, a new mother, or a parent is facing a crisis, this gives an option for that individual to safely and anonymously surrender a child that is less than 30 days old,” said Morgantown Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli on the parameters of the state law that helped shape the ordinance.
The safe surrender site at the Norwood Fire Station would be opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a simple anonymous process where infants could be placed in a climate-controlled box. The box would have 24-hour video monitoring with an alert system that gives notice to emergency and child welfare personnel if an infant is left there. This is aimed at maintaining the privacy of a parent who may be undergoing a crisis while also keeping an infant safe in the process.
“If an infant is placed inside, it actually, I believe, video monitors just inside of the box,” said Muzzarelli. “There is no camera or anything that would potentially expose the identity of somebody walking up to the site, but then it is monitored inside the whole time,” she said.
In the event that a member of the Norwood Fire Station would be unable to respond to an alert of a safe surrender due to another emergency, county EMS services and Morgantown Police would be notified so they could respond. Once an emergency care provider is on the scene to take the infant, they are required by state law to tend to any injuries before taking the infant to a hospital. The alarm system will be installed as part of renovations that are scheduled for the fire station.
“Part of the alarm system notifies multiple people,” said Muzzarelli. “So let’s say there’s a fire and the fire department has left that building, it would also notify 911, police, someone can dispatched to that site,” she said.
If the ordinance passes, the Norwood Fire Station’s establishment as a safe surrender site would be taken into full effect starting in March. The equipment upgrades needed for the surrender box will be included as part of the renovations for the station, which are projected to cost over $1.7 million. With more improvements planned for other fire stations within city limits, more safe surrender sites could be established in the future.
“We would love to see these at more facilities,” said Muzzarelli. “Part of it (choosing Norwood) was that we’re in the process of renovating, and now is the time to move that (forward), but we’re already looking at other locations that may make sense for this,” she said.
The first reading of the ordinance will be discussed by Morgantown City Council in February.