BELENA baby boy was safely surrendered Tuesday afternoon at the Safe Haven Baby Box at the Belen Fire Station.  

The Baby Box, which is built into wall at the fire station, alerted first responders at about 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6. As soon as the outer device door shuts, an electronic alarm sounds, and alerted the fire and rescue personnel. 

 

Belen Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wessels takes questions during a press conference Wednesday regarding a baby who was safely surrendered on Tuesday at the Belen Fire Station. Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photos

Belen Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wessels said during a press conference Wednesday — more than 24 hours after the baby was placed in the box — that the baby was in relatively good health when it was taken out of the box, although it did need oxygen therapy after it was rescued and while it was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.  

The infant, who is the first baby surrendered in Belen, is said to have been full term.  

Belen Fire Chief Charles Cox said his firefighters and emergency medical technicians are honored and proud to be able to serve the community.  

“Yesterday morning, we had a tragic fire in the city. We lost one of our citizens in a fire,” Cox said. “We questioned and thought if we did all we could do. We came back to the station and they were feeling pretty low.” 

As the fire crews were cleaning up from the fire call, Cox said that’s when the alarm on the Baby Box alerted the first responders.  

“We lost a life yesterday morning, but God gave us a chance to save a life. I think that perked up all the firefighters here. How do we feel? We feel good that we were able to have a box here and help this family out.” 

Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Box, said Wednesday she never thought she’d be back in Belen less than 100 days after dedicating it in October.  

“If this parent is out there, I want to say, ‘Thank you — thank you for keeping your child safe. Thank you for entrusting the Belen Fire Department and the Safe Haven Baby Box located here in Belen to take it from here.” 

Kelsey said the baby was picked up within a couple of minutes after being placed in the box, and was loved on by the firefighters at the BFD.  

“They’re all big and burley and rough and tough until they get a baby in their arms,” she said. “This child was given immediate medical care and transported …” 

During the press conference, Wessels said when the alarm went off, EMS Chief Ariel Esquibel and Lt. Patrick Encinias immediately went to the Baby Box and started medical care. Within five to seven minutes, the baby was being transported to UNM-H by Belen rescue personnel, using a surrogate rescue unit on loan from the Rio Communities Fire Department.  

The deputy chief did say there was no personal belongings left in the Baby Box for the child, and the person who put the baby in the box did not take the information pamphlet available. 

The Safe Haven Baby Box that was used on Tuesday to surrender a baby boy is tested every week by Belen firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

“The way our door is set up, and when the door opens, it’ll grab your attention because the pamphlet drops,” Wessels explained. “If they don’t take it, it’s their choice.” 

While the personnel within the Belen Fire Department tests the Baby Box every week, they didn’t expect to find a baby on Tuesday.  

“Our amazing personnel immediately went into the mode of taking care of the baby,” Wessels said. “There’s nothing else at that moment that we were able to process with the exception of taking care of that child, and getting the child to a hospital for further care.” 

After that, Wessels said, when the emotions got involved, they were “flabbergasted that it actually happened. We were honored that it happened with us and we had the ability to take care of that child.” 

While Kelsey said she didn’t want to disclose the sex or age of the baby citing confidentiality, she did say the infant is younger than the 45 days the state’s Safe Haven Law allows someone to surrender an infant to a hospitals, fire and police station. She said the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department is currently looking for a set of parents for the child. 

The News-Bulletin did learn from reliable sources the baby is a boy.  

Kelsey described the parent who surrendered the baby as “selfless,” saying he or she is “heroic and honorable, although not without pain. We may never know your story, we may never know your pain, but there’s a lot of people who are thankful that you kept your child safe and are praying for you and who loves you.” 

Kelsey did say there are resources for the parent, asking they call the number on the box — 1-866-99BABY1 — for free medical care and counseling. 

“The beauty of the Baby Box is the anonymity that every parent that comes up to this Baby Box gets,” she said. “We don’t know who surrendered this child. We can speculate, but we don’t know. We have no idea who placed this child in the box. It could have been Mom; it could have been Dad.” 

In New Mexico, parents can relinquish a child at a hospital, fire or police station within 45 days of birth without penalty. New Mexico is one of only 14 states that also allows infant surrender using a Baby Box; surrenders in all other states must be done face-to-face to be considered legal. 

Belen Mayor Robert Noblin thanked Safe Haven and others for helping bring the Baby Box to the Belen Fire Department.  

“I would encourage all communities, all mayors and councilors, legislators to consider this for your community,” Noblin said. “This week, a family made a difficult decision. We don’t know the circumstances, and we’re not here to judge the circumstances, but they did the right thing and they did what is best for the child.” 

Noblin also gave credit to the men and women of the Belen Fire Department for doing what is best for the child. 

“We’re honored that the city of Belen and our fire department can serve the needs of our community, of this child and of this family,” he added.   

In March 2022, Stephanie Guerrero and Margaret Ridley presented the idea of the Safe Haven Baby Box to the Belen City Council after a teenager in Hobbs was arrested for throwing her newborn baby into a trash bin.  Guerrero and Ridley rallied church and community members and raised $17,979 for the project.   

After the press conference, Guerrero said she was excited to have been part of something that saved a baby’s life.  

“I am a little bit numb. I was literally driving in my car one day asking God if there was anything I could do for our community,” Guerrero said. “That story about the Hobbs baby came to mind, and a lady had mentioned a Baby Box, which I didn’t know anything about.” 

After a little research, she took the idea to Noblin and then presented it to the city council. 

“To be a part of this process is wonderful, and one life got a new start,” she added. “I’m so excited. I’ve already had a family or two who reached out to me who are willing to take this baby. We’ve always said that you can’t just save one, you have to raise one, too.” 

The city also received $10,000 from the state for the project after lawmakers passed legislation that set aside $330,000 — enough to fund a Baby Box in each of the state’s 33 counties. 

Safe Haven has installed Baby Boxes in several New Mexico cities, including Espanola, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Hobbs and in Roswell — the 200th in the nation — on Wednesday. Farmington is scheduled to get one in the next two weeks. 

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.