Firesetting is the term used to describe the behavior of children who have begun to use fire in a way that is dangerous or not approved of by a parent or care giver. The term “firesetter” does not mean that a child has a problem. But it does mean that the child needs additional education about the danger and proper uses of fire. Through education, and in some cases counseling, children can be given the skills to change this dangerous behavior.
When firesetting goes beyond what you are able to deal with, call your local fire department. Most can provide fire safety education for your family. Those that are members of the Fire Stoppers network have a specific program to help children who have been involved with fire. Do not put off dealing with this behavior. Fire is a devastating and deadly force.
By determining the motivation for the firesetting, we can best determine how to deal with it. Most children fall into the following classifications:
CURIOSITY - EXPERIMENTATION
About 70% of firesetters are in this group. The child is curious. The opportunity is there because the child has access to fire tools and is not supervised. He or she decides to ‘see what fire will do’. They typically don't think about or understand the danger of their actions.
Example: 6-year-old Michael finds his parents’ lighter on the table. He is feeling kind of bored, so he decides to light some papers and sticks on fire. His home life is stable, there haven't been any recent stresses, and he seems sorry for what he did.
These firesetters are usually older, upset about something, and not very good at expressing themselves. They typically light a fire as a way to let grownups know they need help. Their firesetting is in reaction to a problem.
Example: Mom and stepdad are fighting loudly. Amy (age 11) is scared and wants them to stop. She doesn't know how to communicate about how she feels, so she takes a lighter into her bedroom and sets her bedding on fire. When the parents notice this new emergency, they stop fighting. What's likely to happen the next time the parents fight if nothing changes?
Usually teenagers, these firesetters light fires for many reasons. Most of the time it’s a prank or because of a dare. Sometimes it’s to cover up other crimes like vandalism or theft. Most firesetters in this group don't realize they are breaking the law and could go to jail.
Example: Other kids dare 14-year-old Brad to light toilet paper in the school bathroom. Brad wants his friends to like him. Even though he knows it is wrong, he does it anyway.
These groups of firesetters are not set in stone, and the descriptions are brief. Remember that every situation is different.
To develop and maintain an intervention program to reduce the number of juvenile fire related injuries, fatalities and property damage in the community.
The Fire Stoppers program is an educational intervention program designed to educate parents and children about fire safety and the consequences of fire. Each family meets individually with a trained fire service educator. The educator will discuss the situation with the family, and recommend education or counseling.
ANYONE CAN CALL
Anyone who cares about the safety of a child can call for help - families, friends, neighbors, teacher and you. For more information, please contact your local Fire Department and ask about the Fire Stoppers program.
Remember, it is important to take the early signs of firesetting seriously. Fire Department personnel have been trained to assess firesetting behaviors, provide fire safety education, and to recommend additional assistance if needed.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Set a good example. If you smoke, be very responsible in your use of matches and lighters. Children learn by watching you
Keep matches and lighters out of children's sight and reach. Even toddlers can use lighters and matches to start a fire
Teach your school children to 'STOP, DROP AND ROLL' if their clothing catches on fire. Tell them not to run! STOP, DROP to the floor, and ROLL over and over until the fire is out
Teach children the safe and proper ways to use fire. Be sure they understand it should only be used by a responsible grownup
Smoke detectors save lives. Make sure you have a working smoke detector in your house, and practice your family escape plan