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MFD’s upgraded Norwood Fire Station to be a safe surrender site

MORGANTOWN — A lot of the improvements being made to the Morgantown Fire Department’s Station 2, commonly known as the Norwood Fire Station, are things you would likely expect — updated mechanicals, improved living quarters, a new weight room/excercise area. 

But the city of Morgantown is also looking to include a less obvious, but potentially life-saving feature made legal just last year in West Virginia — a baby box. 

When Morgantown City Council meets for its monthly committee of the whole meeting Tuesday evening, it will consider taking up a new section of city code designating the Norwood Fire Station as a safe surrender site for infants. 

The new law would closely follow WV Code 49-4-206, which was passed into law during the 2023 legislative session. It allows the governing entity of a local fire department that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to designate the department as a safe-surrender site to accept physical custody of a child who is 30 days old or younger from a parent. 

A “newborn safety device” will be built into the building, allowing a child to be surrendered anonymously from the outside while an alarm is triggered inside the building. 

Fire personnel are to address any obvious and immediate needs of the child and begin transport to a hospital as soon as possible, but no later than 30 minutes after the child is surrendered.   

The Child Protective Services Division of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services is to be contacted within two hours of the child being dropped off. 

Safe surrender laws began showing up across the country starting in Texas in the late 1990s to address a rising number of babies being abandoned, often resulting in tragic consequences.

According to news reports, Marshall County EMS installed West Virginia’s first baby box this past November. 

Once the needed equipment is installed, the Norwood station will include signage identifying it as a safe surrender site. 

“Neither of the other fire stations have been designated as safe surrender sites yet, but city administration sees the intrinsic value in providing a safe and legal alternative to abandoning newborns,” Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli said. “As such, a safe haven baby box is being installed at the Norwood Fire Station, along with other renovations to the site.” 

The Norwood station is the city’s oldest. The block building located at the corner of Sabraton Avenue and Hillcrest Street became a home to the Morgantown Fire Department in July of 1949, when Morgantown annexed the city of Sabraton.

It is currently undergoing renovations estimated at just over $1.7 million.

According to the city, firefighters will likely return to Norwood from their temporary home at the Morgantown Municipal Airport in the next four to six weeks.