Espanola City Council members and staff listen to a Dec. 10 presentation by Espanola Fire Department Firefighter John Wickersham on the Safe Haven for Infants Act. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
City of Espanola Firefighter John Wickersham discusses a resolution of support of the Safe Haven for Infants Act with City Council Dec. 10 at their regular meeting in City Hall. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Espanola firefighter John Wickersham, president of the International Firefighters Union Local 4339, has garnered support for a resolution of support from several Northern New Mexico governmental agencies for the state’s Safe Haven for Infants Act which was passed in 2005 and amended in 2013 to add fire stations and police stations.
Wickersham told the Espanola City Council Dec. 10 that Pojoaque, San Juan, Santa Clara and Santa Fe County were already on board. Since Dec. 10, Rio Arriba County Commission also voted to support the Act.
Wickersham said he wanted to raise awareness for mothers that they have a different option. He introduced Jeremay Martinez and her adopted son Dominic.
“Dominic was born addicted. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. The mother was using heroin at the time. He was born addicted and had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks to recover. They had to give him morphine to get him off the heroin. Jeremay just happened to be in the right place at the right time and the mother pretty much abandoned the baby with her,” he said.
Wickersham noted that Martinez sent him a video about the Safe Haven boxes which he took to Mayor Javier Sanchez and suggested that they work to raise awareness of Safe Haven.
The next day is when a baby was found in Alcalde, Wickersham said.
“The Mayor contacted me and said, ‘Let’s do something. Let’s move on this’, he said.
Since then the Espanola Fire Department has implemented a procedure, done training and raised awareness of the fact that if a mother takes a baby 90 days old or younger to a police station, a fire station or a hospital, she can’t be charged with abandonment of the child.
Wickersham said Dominic was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome – one of some 30,000 babies born with the condition every year or about one every 15 minutes. He said being adopted himself, he also wanted to raise awareness for foster care, guardianship and adoption.
Working with Rep. Joseph Sanchez hoping to amend the bill this year to include Safe Haven baby boxes which he said are neither cruel or inhumane. A baby box is a safety device that legally permits a mother in crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender her unwanted newborn. The boxes can be installed in an exterior wall of a designated police or fire station or at a hospital. The exterior door on the box automatically locks upon placing a newborn inside and an interior door which allows the baby to be secured from inside the building.
“Right now the mothers have to actually hand the baby off to a firefighter, a police officer or a hospital worker. Hopefully with the baby boxes, mothers will feel safer handing the baby off,” Wickersham said.
Mayor Sanchez said the resolution “has everything to do with what we are trying to do as a city”.
“We are trying to evolve ourselves from historical trauma, cyclical poverty, cyclical drug use and addiction…. What we want to do here is offer some kind of hope to anybody who feels that they don’t have it,” he said.
“We have to get rid of some of the ugliness, and that includes things like the clean and lien situation that we have, when we pass by homes that are riddled with graffiti or with needles or with blight and unsightly situations,” Sanchez said. “When we walk through those, day in and day out, we internalize it and it becomes the norm. But we’re here to say that those things are no longer the norm, and we won’t tolerate them.”
Sanchez said it is the responsibility of every adult to protect the innocent and that that mandate becomes more evidently clear in society in the time and place where what is valued most is invaded.
“This valley has seen a tumultuous couple of years with the loss of so many children. We recognize that the loss of just one to a preventable situation is too many. We must ask ourselves what can we do, when do we intervene and at what age. I don’t think it can be too soon at any age to intervene,” he said. “With the resolution we hereby commit as a full council to ensure the safety of all children at the earliest stages of life.”
Sanchez said expecting mothers must be given the tools, the rights and the alternatives they need to safely relinquish their children to a society that will ultimately care for and nurture their lives.
“As a family takes care of its own, we must support the community with trust, love and acceptance. When an expecting mother is overwhelmed with the decisions before her we will be there with a helping hand to guide the decision to allow these children to be born knowing that they will be cared for. This is the true and one and only option and that the mother will be praised for her efforts and not condemned. Whatever the affliction mother must know that we are here to help,” he said. “I strongly support further commitment to support the Safe Haven initiative, that within the city citizens are encouraged to hand their children over to the loving staff of the Espanola Fire Department and the Espanola Police Department. We are all here to serve you in every capacity possible.”
City councilors each spoke in support of the resolution and were anxious that the public be made aware of the options under the Safe Haven Act. The resolution was approved unanimously.
Wickersham plans to reach out to other fire departments in Northern New Mexico.
In Espanola, the Safe Haven sites include:
- Espanola Police Department, 1316 Calle Adelante
- Espanola Fire Department, 806 Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park Road
- Espanola Hospital, 1010 Spruce Street