Preventing youth fire setting
Did You Know?
• Fires started by children playing accounted for an average of 56,300 fires, with associated losses of 110 civilian deaths, 880 civilian injuries and $286 million in direct property damage per year between 2005 and 2009.
• Younger children are more likely to set fires in homes, while older children and teenagers are more likely to set fires outside.
• Lighters were the source in half of child-playing with fire in homes.
• Never leave matches or lighters within reach of children. Keep matches and lighters out of reach in high, locked cabinets.
• Praise your child for practicing responsible behavior and showing respect for fire.
• Set a good example; use matches, lighters and fire carefully, as children will imitate positive behavior.
Nearly 1,200 juvenile-set fires occurred in Minnesota from 2007 through 2011 — and those were the ones in which evidence was undeniable, Minnesota State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl in St. Paul reported. Many more such fires remain “undetermined” in origin.
Youth fire-setting is largely a hidden problem, and it can only be solved by enlightened parents and educated kids. National statistics show that 40 percent of U.S. arson arrests in 2010 were juveniles, and almost half of them were under age 16.
Experts recognize four juvenile fire-setting motivations: Curiosity, crisis-reaction, delinquency and pathological behavior. Almost every case involves easy access to ignition devices and lack of adult supervision; most are made difficult to identify by juveniles who deny involvement and parents who resist admitting that their child may be starting fires on purpose.
Small children instinctively run from danger and older ones often lie to protect themselves. Few parents know that there are ways to prevent problems and there is help available for troubled kids.
There are several options for parents, teachers or others who notice fire-setting behavior in juveniles. Publications on the United States Fire Administration website focuses on specific age groups at www.usfa.fema.gov/aaw/. Mental health professionals who help children and families in crisis can be located through school psychologists, social service agencies, priests and chaplains or the juvenile justice program.
The Minnesota Juvenile Fire-Setter Help line is (800) 500-8897, where incoming calls are answered by an automated system and then reviewed by a deputy state fire marshal who forwards the case to an appropriate source for help.
Rosendahl states that the least effective option is denial. Fire-setting is rarely shameful behavior in children, but failing to stop it is a shame – and sometimes it can be fatal.
• Fire fatalities were down 10 percent from 2000 to 2010.
• Minnesota’s fire death rate is 45 percent lower than the Midwest average (2010).
• The State Fire Marshal’s office performed 377 fire investigations, 3,400 inspections and 1,500 follow-up visits in 2010.
• On average, the State Fire Marshal’s office performs more than 400 arson investigations per year.
• Minnesota’s arson arrest rate is 18 percent — 12 percent higher than the national average.
• There were 81 building fires extinguished by automatic sprinkler systems in 2010, up from 78 in 2009.
• School fires in Minnesota dropped 35 percent since 1990 while the number of schools increased by 30 percent.
As far as Brainerd Fire/Rescue goes, we have responded to about 220 calls this calendar year.
For more information on this issue, go to www.usfa.fema.gov/aaw/ or call the local fire department 828-2312.