Alberta firehall first in Canada to construct safe surrender box as alternative to baby abandonment

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A plain grey metal door outside the fire station in Strathmore will soon be a safe place for parents to surrender their newborns, says Eric Alexander, shift captain of the Strathmore Fire Department. (Terri Trembath/CBC – image credit)

The community fire station in Strathmore, Alta., will soon be the first in Canada to offer a safe place for parents to surrender their newborn babies.

Hope's Cradle is similar to intiatives like Angel Cradles at two Edmonton hospitals and Safe Haven Baby Boxes in the United States. But Hope's Cradle is the first in Canada to be attached to a fire station.

Shift captain Eric Alexander is happy to see the project close to being fully operational.

“We're really excited to be able to offer this service to our community and the surrounding communities as well,” Alexander said. “It's pretty special to be the first one in Canada.”

He hopes it catches on across the country.

Partnership with Gems for Gems

Alexander started working on Hope's Cradle after a baby was found dead in a Calgary dumpster on Christmas Eve in 2017.

As a new father, the story stuck in his mind. As a firefighter with a priority of saving lives, he wanted to ensure that doesn't happen again.

“I just couldn't imagine the pain of having to make that decision as a new parent,” he said.

While Alexander was working on the project, a Calgary-based charity called Gems for Gems was working on a similar idea.

Four months ago, they partnered to come up with Hope's Cradle and split the $20,000 cost of construction.

“For this first one, we've partnered with Strathmore but we want to partner with several all across Alberta and all across Canada,” said Jordan Guildford, CEO and founder of Gems for Gems, a charity that aims to end domestic abuse.

In the U.S., Guildford explained, Save Haven Baby Boxes are used more in rural locations, because people living in cities have the perception that anonymity is higher in rural areas. So they will drive to surrender their newborn.

Strathmore, a town 50 kilometres east of Calgary, fits the bill, she said.

Gems for Gems is working with partnerships with the Calgary fire department as well, she said.

How Hope's Cradle works

Right now, the spot is a simple, small, square metal door on the outside of the Strathmore fire station. But eventually the door will have a decal clearly marking it as Hope's Cradle, Alexander said.

The door can be opened once. Inside, there is an enclosed, heated bassinet waiting for the baby to be placed in. When the door closes, it locks, and a silent alarm goes off to alert fire department staff.

“We want to ensure that expectant mothers know that their anonymity will be protected and will not be released under any circumstances, as long as the child is surrendered without signs of neglect or abuse,” Alexander said.

Unless the child is injured, leaving a baby in a safe place will not result in criminal charges. The goal of the program, he explained, is to provide a safe place for newborns to go to a caring home and get the support they need.

Hope's Cradle has no religious or political affiliation, Guildford said.

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