Juvenile firesetting is a serious problem, regardless of the child’s motivation for the fire start. Firesetting can begin at a very early age and may continue into adulthood. Recognizing youth firesetting early, and taking appropriate corrective measures can greatly reduce the risk of future firesetting incidences. Prevention, education and intervention are keys to reducing the problem and a youth firesetter program can provide an avenue for all three.
Youth firesetter intervention programs identify, evaluate and attempt to treat youth firesetters and their families, with the hope of preventing any recurrence of firesetting.
For the majority of youths, firesetting is a behavioral problem that can be corrected with a combination of education and/or psychological counseling.
It is the policy of the Two Rivers Fire Department to provide such a service to the parents or legal guardians of young firesetters who reside in the City of Two Rivers in the interest of decreasing the incidents of firesetting. Requests for services may come in a number of ways. The child’s parent(s) or legal guardian, the school or the police may contact the fire department seeking assistance in dealing with a firesetting youth. Some youths will come to our attention through Social Services or the Juvenile Justice system, while other youths are directly referred because of a fire department response to a fire set by a youth.
Interviews are conducted to determine whether the firesetting behavior was accidental, curiosity or symptomatic of deeper problems. Educational intervention will be utilized for the accidental and curiosity firesetter. When firesetting behavior is determined to be indicative of more serious problems, referral to specialized health care professional agencies will be recommended.
The Two Rivers Fire Department Youth Firesetter Program is a multi-level approach to the education and/or treatment of identified juveniles involved in firesetting behaviors. The program is adaptable for pre-school ages through teens. Participation is voluntary except for those referred by the juvenile authorities. The program consists of five parts, each phase has a unique role in the process, yet all are interconnected.
The five parts are:
Identification is what brings the child to our attention. A juvenile firesetter may come to the attention of the fire service in a number of ways. The child’s parent or caregiver, the school or the police may contact the fire service seeking assistance with a firesetting youth involved in an incident. Some juveniles will come to the attention of the fire service directly through a fire department’s response to a fire set by a youth, or if a child has been linked to a fire through an investigation, they may be referred to the program by the juvenile court.
Regardless of the reason for a child setting a fire, education is perhaps the most important aspect of the program and is almost always appropriate. Because children are growing and changing daily, they respond well to educational intervention strategies. The goal is to provide fire safety education to the family so that they develop fire competent behaviors and avoid participation in unsupervised fire starts. Parents must be as much a part of the process as the child, since we can not expect the child to use fire in an appropriate manner when his/her primary role models (parents) may be demonstrating the incorrect methods several times a day. The parent may need as much, or more education than the child.
Preventative fire safety education, delivered to the children through the school system, has the greatest potential for educating firesetters. Many firesetters know how to stop, drop, and roll, crawl low under smoke, feel the door, test their smoke detector, make an escape plan, and many other survival skills. But survival skills emphasize what to do after a fire has occurred. Firesetter intervention emphasizes how to avoid the inappropriate use of fire to prevent an incident from ever occurring.
Once the juvenile firesetter has been identified to the fire service, contact with the parent or legal guardian is necessary to inform them about the department’s program and offer assistance in dealing with their child’s firesetting behavior. This is often accomplished during a brief telephone conversation with the parent(s). At this time the parent is interviewed to gain background information on the child and family history.
A description of the firesetter program is provided, clearly outlining the scope of the program. It is stated that the program is designed to address the child’s firesetting behavior through education ,and if necessary, referral to an appropriate health care professional. Special emphasis shall be noted that the program offers fire safety education only and that any counseling or therapy is conducted by professionals outside the program.
An appointment is set up in which the child and the entire family is invited to attend. The educational approach utilizes the entire family as a support group for the firesetter and requires their involvement in its success.
The meeting starts with a screening and evaluation process conducted with the child and family. Interview schedules designed to provide the program with systematic methods of evaluation are used. A series of questions are asked of the firesetting youth and their families in personal interviews. The application of these interviews yield information regarding the severity of the firesetting problem and provides preliminary data on the psychosocial environment of the youth and their family. These interview schedules yield a quantifiable method for classifying the severity of the firesetting problem and for recommending specific types of intervention.
Youth participating in fire play and firesetting behavior motivated by accident, curiosity or experimentation can be identified and educated to reduce the likelihood of their future involvement in unsupervised fire starts. Early intervention through education is the major focus of our program. Lesson plans developed with the use of videos, booklets, props, and activity sheets are utilized to educate the child and their family.
When a family’s problems extend beyond the expertise of the fire service, a referral to a professional outside the firesetter program is necessary. Recurrent firesetters frequently experience significant psychological and social conflict and turmoil related to their firesetting activities. Core intervention services involve mental health agencies and professionals, parenting classes, the probation and juvenile justice system, or other appropriate services.
Success can be measured in many ways and no program can be successful without evaluation. Follow-up is an essential part of any juvenile firesetter program. Recidivism, or repeat behavior, can largely determine the success of the intervention. However, we must not believe that because the family has not called or that we have not responded to a fire in their home, that the intervention has been successful. This can only be accomplished by contacting the family. A follow-up questionnaire provides a means of evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention from the family’s perspective. It answers questions of what worked well and what did not. Information gathered during the follow-up process is vital for directing future intervention.