- In Rochester, a two year old, playing with matches, started a fire that took his life and the lives of five family members.
- In Eden, two females, nine and twelve years old use a lighter and hairspray to create a torch. The flame catches contents of a playroom on fire and significantly damages their home.
- In Schenectady, a two year old girl died from injuries sustained in a fire that her sibling set, lighting a cardboard box ablaze on the stove. Their grandmother later dies from health problems attributed to the incident.
- In Richmondville, the discovery of a small bathroom fire uncovers a one year history of setting fires. The 13 year old identified setting an estimated 50 to 60 fires.
- In Amsterdam, two males, 13 and 15 years old, broke into a vacant building and used a lighter to set some books inside a barrel on fire. The ensuing fire destroyed three buildings, damaged six others and displaced 50 people.
Youth Firesetting has been identified as the fastest growing fire threat in the United States.
Annual statistics show that children setting fires result in:
- 67,500 fires
- 230 deaths
- 1,800 injuries
- $235 million in property damage
The victims of these incidents are often the children themselves.
- 70% of all fatalities in child set fires are children age 5 and under
- Over 50% of arson arrests in the United States are juveniles
Youth firesetting can occur anywhere:
- Young children often set fires in areas that they are familiar with (home, bedroom, play area)
- Older children will venture out to other areas as well (vacant properties, school, bus stop)
These numbers are generally considered conservative as many more fires go unreported and families simply ignore the seriousness of the activity, choosing to hide or ignore such behavior, believing it to be a one-time occurrence. A Fire interest by children is universal and when left unchecked can lead to an embedded fascination with fire.
These behaviors can all be addressed...
Why Children Set Fires
Experts agree that the best way to understand firesetting behavior is to look at where and why children set fires. The reasons that youth set fires are broad; most children are simply curious or have a fascination with fire but no intent to cause harm. They “play” with fire to find out how it feels, how it burns, and what it does. They do not understand fire’s destructive potential. These children typically have:
- The false impression that they can control the fire
- Limited fire safety education
- Minimal supervision (parental or otherwise)
- Easy access to ignition materials
Although curiosity is a normal part of children’s growth and development, parents and other adults who discover that a child is playing with fire should take it very seriously.
Still other children encounter crisis, or experience some other stimulus that triggers the behavior. A crisis in the child’s life, such as moving to a new area, parental separation or divorce, the death of a pet or loved one, or having been bullied by peers could trigger firesetting behavior. In other instances the issue may not be broken down that simply, a more serious emotional or mental disturbance could be the cause. Regardless of their motivation or intent, these juveniles must be assessed to ensure that they receive the appropriate counseling and education to address their fire setting behavior.
What You Can Do!
Most people see youth firesetting, fire prevention and overall fire safety as tasks or issues for the fire service to address. Realistically, those issues are a COMMUNITY issue, affecting everyone in that community. As such, the entire community can, and should, play a part in collectively addressing the problem. Along with the fire service, law enforcement, educators, counselors, physicians, clergy, community leaders, and caregivers must recognize the need and work comprehensively to address it. Some things that everyone can do to assist the process include;
Setting a Good Example
- Install and maintain smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and carbon monoxide detectors
- Plan and practice fire escape drills in your home
- Activate smoke detectors during these drills to increase familiarity
- Regularly inspect your home for fire hazards
- Always use "safety sense" when making or using fire
- Point out to your children the safety rules you and others follow throughout the day
Take Responsibility for Fire Safety
- Teach fire safety at home as well as in school
- Fire is a tool NOT a toy, we use to heat our homes or cook our food
- Fire is dangerous -- it can kill
- All fires -- even small ones -- can spread quickly
- Even adults must follow special safety rules for fire
Control Your Child’s Access to Fire
- Keep all matches and lighters out of the reach of children
- Even a 2-year old can operate a cigarette lighter
- Never allow anyone to use lighters or matches in an unsafe manner in your home
- Never leave stoves or lighted candles unattended
- Teach children to bring to your attention any matches or lighters
- Don’t prematurely assign responsibilities involving matches, lighters, and fire to children
- Lighting candles, filling a woodstove, burning rubbish
- Participate in training to learn about youth firesetters
- Help raise awareness in your community about youth firesetters
- Know the resources in your community to help youth firesetters -- or help develop a juvenile firesetters program
Report instances of youth firesetting
- Only a small percentage of fire incidents involving youth are reported to authorities each year
- Incomplete reporting means we have an inaccurate picture of the fire problem
- Sufficient resources are necessary to effectively address youth firesetting
Where Should I Go For Help
Programs exist at local, county, and state levels to assess the youth's firesetting behavior and provide appropriate clinical and cognitive assistance to address the behavior. Many communities currently maintain a specialized Youth Firesettter Intervention Program. These programs are comprised of specially trained personnel from various disciplines; fire, police prosecutor, education, counselors, and so on, with ONE common goal: ASSISTING YOUTH to receive the appropriate counseling and education to address their fire setting behavior.
To report an incident of youth firesetting, or to find a program in your community, call:
The New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control at (518) 474-6746
Please share this information with your family, friends, and colleagues. Make that coordinated community effort to STOP YOUTH FIRESETTING.
Q. My son or daughter is experimenting with fire and matches. Is this a natural thing for children to do?
A. Yes. It is a phase that almost all children go through. You should educate them on the dangers of fire, matches and other sources of ignition.
Q. My son or daughter set a small fire that I was able to extinguish without having to call the fire department. What should I do?
A. Call your County Fire Coordinator and inquire about the local Juvenile Fire-Setting Program in your location.
Q. My child has set several small fires, and I have covered up for them. If I have my child go to the local fire department to spend some time and perhaps wash the fire truck, will that help?
A. No. You need to seek out a counseling program for juveniles to deal with this problem. Please call your County Fire Coordinator today.