O.C. Urged to Use Fire Stations as Baby Havens

Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Grand Jury recommended Monday that the county align itself with its neighbors to designate fire stations as a surrender point for unwanted babies.

Orange County has 137 fire stations, compared with 32 hospital emergency rooms, the county's current havens for unwanted infants. In its report, "Into Safe Arms," the grand jury argued that fire stations are a safer, friendlier, more convenient alternative to emergency rooms.

Under California's Safe Arms for Newborns Act, babies as old as 3 days can be left -- no questions asked -- at state-designated hospital emergency rooms and other county-designated areas.

Last year, three babies were dropped off at hospitals in Orange County. In Los Angeles County, 10 babies were safely surrendered last year but 13 were simply abandoned, eight of whom died, according to county statistics. Figures for abandoned infants in Orange County were not available.

Statewide, 45 abandoned newborns were found dead between 1996 and 2001.

Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties have designated fire stations as havens. Orange County has not, which the grand jury said could create confusion for someone surrendering an infant.

The only alternate drop-off location in Orange County is the Orangewood Children's Home.

City and county firefighters have emergency medical training and some have paramedic training, sufficient to care for infants.

Designating fire stations as surrender points will reduce other barriers, said grand jury spokesman Jeff Hamilton. "Most people know where their own fire station is," he said. "Emergency rooms tend to be a difficult place, at best, to get through, even if you're injured.

"For a person that may or may not have transportation at a difficult time, this is someplace that's going to be closer."

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