The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did a study called “Youth Fire-setter Prevention and Intervention,” published in 2011. This study states there are four common factors that influence fire-setting behavior among children and adolescents. The thought is that parental intervention can be a key to avoiding this behavior, and this report gives us the information we need to keep our children away from some of these factors. Keep in mind, most people are curious about fire at a young age. It becomes a problem when people intentionally set fires that cause damage.
The first factor identified is easy access to ignition materials. When a child can easily discover the ignition source and how to obtain it, that can prove deadly. This is usually matches and lighters, but can also include pilot lights, space heaters and other less obvious sources. I remember asking my son (when he was in the third grade) how easy it would be for him to get matches at school. He quickly responded back that it wouldn't be a problem. Many kids he knew could easily get them from home because they knew where they were stored.
The second factor that can influence fire-setting behavior is a lack of adequate supervision. I know that we can't watch over our children every second of every day, but we need to know what they are doing and where they are at all times with adult supervision nearby. I recently read of a woman who lost her two children, ages 6 and 2, in a fire that happened when she left the children unattended as she left to work an eight-hour shift.
Third, a failure to practice fire safety can lead to problems. Young children often lack an understanding of the dangers associated with fires. In many cases, funneling the curiosity with fire into a healthy respect for fire, armed with knowledge about the dangers associated with it, can move a child into becoming a fire-safety advocate.
Finally, children today have easy access to information on the Internet, which can glamorize the use of fire. There is information on designing explosives, how to do tricks with fire and other such stunts. Technology has made media available to youth on many dangerous and often illegal activities.
Knowing these factors, you can now arm yourself on how best to prevent fire-setting by children and adolescents. Be sure to include them in any and all fire-safety behaviors in your home, such as designing or updating your family escape plan, picking an outside family meeting place and the monthly testing of smoke alarms in your home. They may also be able to help you change out/install new smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and blow out candles after dinner. There are plenty of family friendly fire-safety video pieces on the fire department page of the city website so please check it out.
By Tom Kiurski
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.