MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first reading of an ordinance that would designate the Norwood Fire Station in Morgantown as a child safe-surrender site was passed by Morgantown City Council.
The ordinance was approved 6-0 by the council, which green lights the installation of a room called a “child surrender box” as part of the $1.7 million in renovations to the Norwood Fire Station. The room would be able to accept infants aged 30 days or younger in a safe and secure room that is set to alert firefighters at Norwood and emergency responders the second a child is placed inside. This would become one of the first of its kind to be opened in the Mountain State.
“I believe there is one other location in West Virginia, it does give mothers or parents of infant children who may otherwise be in crisis an opportunity to safely transfer the custody of their child,” said Morgantown Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli. “And do so anonymously,” she said.
Video monitors will be installed inside the child surrender room at the Norwood Fire Station. Monitoring would be maintained on a 24-hour basis, with boxes opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a simple anonymous process to drop off infants. The room would be climate-controlled with a door that locks immediately after a child is placed inside, with video monitoring aimed at maintaining anonymity for any parent who leaves a child.
“It notifies emergency personnel through an alarm and notification system,” said Muzzarelli. “That way, a child who may otherwise have been abandoned and not in a safe environment is able to be taken to a safe place,” she said.
The installation of the child surrender box follows protocols set in place by the West Virginia Legislature during the 2023 session. This includes a requirement from emergency responders to take the child to a hospital within 30 minutes of responding to an alert of one being dropped at the Norwood Fire Station. Custody is then filed by the State Department of Health and Human Resources or another appropriate agency after the infant is taken care of. According to Kay, Casto, and Chaney attorney representing the city Ryan Simonton, state law minimizes any possible liability risks for city employees who respond to an infant placement.
“The way it does that is by giving permission to people who ordinarily would have no right to take what is legally someone else’s child and take them to a hospital,” said Simonton in regards to state law. “Get them any care they may need and get them into custody of the DHHR,” he said.
Members of Morgantown City Council were in full support of the installation of the Norwood Fire Station child surrender box, and they were also open to additional rooms being considered at other fire stations. Representatives of the Morgantown Human Rights Commission called for some legal language to be changed in the ordinance to prevent any liability to emergency responders in regards to custody of the infant placed inside. This was endorsed by Morgantown City Councilor Bill Kawecki. Simonton supported any changes to the ordinance to increase safety and liability, with city staff scheduled to have the child surrender site active by the end of March at the Norwood Fire Station.
“It is set to go into effect at the end of March, we are working that in line with when those personnel get put back into that fire station,” said Muzzarelli.