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Fire chief wants renewed focus on Safe Haven laws after newborn was found dead at Hiram College

Posted at 6:30 PM, Jan 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-24 19:50:39-05

HIRAM, Ohio — A local official is calling for renewed focus on a statewide law after a newborn baby born was found dead in a college dorm trashcan.

“It’s tragic," Hiram Fire Chief Bill Byers said about the heartbreaking discovery.

The newborn boy was found dead in a trashcan in a bathroom at Whitcomb Hall on Hiram College's campus in October 2019.

Just this week, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. No one has been charged in the case as of Jan. 24.

RELATED: Medical examiner rules death of baby found in trash bag inside Hiram dorm bathroom a homicide

According to the college's website, Whitcomb Hall is a co-ed dorm for first year students.

“Regardless of the signs on the door, people's communities, fire departments, police department, EMS departments – we stand ready to help them in a minute or hour of need," Byers said.

His department and the village's police department share the same building. Both of them are designated Safe Haven sites.

"So, that allows someone to bring a newborn - up to 30 days - to a fire department, police department or emergency room," he said.

The drop-off can be done without any questions if there is no sign of abuse and if the person dropping the baby off is a biological parent. The baby must be given to a medical professional or to a police officer.

The Ohio Safe Haven law was enacted in 2009, but Byers said people don't talk about the legislation as much as they should.

“We tend as a society to pass laws, but then they drift into the background," he said. "And, when it comes to the life of an infant or a newborn, that law needs to be publicized and made sure that people who need it - regardless of their demographics - know about that law.”

Both sites are a quarter mile from the Hiram College campus. Hospitals are also Safe Haven sites. The closest to Hiram is 15 minutes away in Ravenna. Byers was on the crew called to the dorm when the baby was found in October. He said it was difficult for the men and women of his department.

The department hasn't had a Safe Haven drop-off, but Byers said they're prepared for one. The Cleveland Clinic updated the department's Safe Haven kits for ambulances and there is information available at the station for people who decide to surrender a newborn.

Now, three months after the newborn was found, Byers said it's time to talk more about the resources available for people who need help.

“I think awareness on the campus level, across the country, even in high schools. Anywhere where there’s a population where they might feel at risk," he said.

News 5 reached out to Hiram College to talk about Safe Haven Law education. A spokesperson said students can get help at the Student Health Center, but questions about educating students about the law were not answered.

A statement was also released: "We are a close knit community so a situation like this is a difficult one for students, faculty, and staff. To help members of our community, Hiram continues to ensure that professional and ministerial counseling services are available."