A Program for Parents, Children and Firefighters
Provided with permission from the Camden County Fire Marshal's Office
What is Child and Adolescent Firesetting?
Each year, in the United States thousands of deadly fires are started by children. Most of these fires could be prevented if parents were better informed about the hazards of leaving cigarette lighters and matches within the reach of young children. Some of these fires are started intentionally by adolescents. Perhaps even sadder than the death and destruction caused by children setting fires is the fact that most of these tragedies could be prevented through a program including family education, awareness and counseling regarding juvenile fire play.
No single group is more familiar with the problem of child and adolescent firesetting than our nation's firefighters. They witness the ugly results of deadly fires every day. They see how most fires could be prevented. They have even taken bold steps through programs like FireWatch to stop children from playing with fire.
In the decade of the 1970's, 54.6 percent of all arrested arsonists in the U. S. were under 18 years of age, including 11 percent age 10 or under.
Why Do Children Set Fires?
Children are naturally curious about fire. Indeed, most children are fascinated by it. This natural curiosity is the cause of most fires set by young children. They find a pack of matches or a cigarette lighter and, through imitation or experimentation, cause tragedy.
Other children may start fires intentionally. Many experts believe that this group of youngsters set fires because they are experiencing some sort of emotional strain - - perhaps a divorce, an impending move, or a death in the family. More often than not, these children intentionally set fires more than once. No matter what circumstances cause these children to set fires, the results can be tragic.
What Can Be Done?
FireWatch is an independent consortium composed of firefighters, law enforcement personnel, educators, mental health professionals and concerned citizens who are eager to help solve the problem of child and adolescent firesetting. Patterned after national organizations, FireWatch is a program operating out of the Camden County Fire Marshal's Office.
The FireWatch program coordinates such activities as fire safety awareness programs, adolescent burn education and family counseling, as well as parent training in the area of fire prevention among children and adolescents. It also serves as an advocate for responsible fire prevention legislation and regulation within the state of New Jersey.
Because of programs like FireWatch, there is help available to child firesetters and their families. Children can be taught constructively about the proper uses and the inherent dangers of fire. Parents can be trained to teach their children at an early age basic fire safety techniques. And, through FireWatch's special companion program, children who intentionally set fires can get individual attention from a caring and understanding firefighter.
The Camden County Fire Service responds to an average of 22,000 fire calls each year. It is estimated that juveniles are involved in approximately 7,500 of these incidents. These incidents include dwellings, vacant buildings and brush fires, as well as false alarms. Camden County statistics show that with the investigation of 96 fire deaths from 1979 to 1984, 22 percent resulted from juveniles playing with fire.
What Educational Programs Are Available?
FireWatch offers educational materials and presentations to schools and parent groups that go a long way in helping children understand the dangers of fire. Constructive exercises introduce children to both the safe and dangerous uses of fire and other forms of combustible energy. FireWatch stresses the fact that fire safety education should start as early as possible in the home, making sure that children learn what to do, for instance, if they find a pack of matches or a cigarette lighter.
What Is the Companion Program
Often, the Companion Program helps children with absent or inattentive parents who vent their frustrations by setting fires. The Companion Program under FireWatch matches specially trained firefighters who serve as long-term role models with these children. Whether a child is a curiosity firesetter or one who has been deliberately setting fires, he or she can be helped by a caring, professional firefighter. The companion can listen to, understand, and help these special children. The companion can also help family members cope with the problem. The companion program, in conjunction with family counseling, has been proven effective in reducing recurrent firesettting behavior among children.
Make Your Home Fire safe for Children:
- Keep all matches and lighters in a single designated place in the house - - out of reach from children. Put them above eye level, as you would with medicine, tools, chemicals, sharp knives etc.
- Never assume that infants and toddlers are incapable of lighting a match or a lighter. As soon as they can understand, teach the children that when they find them to bring matches and lighters to you (parents).
- Explain that fire is an adult tool, not a toy. It is dangerous unless adults are using fire for a healthy and appropriate purpose. When children are older (5-7), begin teaching them the proper uses of fire, like lighting candles on a cake, but only under your (the parents') supervision.
- Leave a responsible person with your children when you go out, even for a little while.
- Carefully instruct babysitters on what to do in case of fire.
- Teach your children the proper way to extinguish clothes that catch fire. (DO NOT RUN!!!! STOP, DROP AND ROLL)
- Make sure your whole family knows how to turn in a fire alarm.
- Have a list of emergency telephone numbers posted, and if you have to call the fire department, make sure that you give your complete address and tell them if you think someone is trapped in the fire.
- Work out a plan of escape from every room in your home, especially from the bedrooms.
- Set a good example for fire safety. Children learn about fire from others.
The Telltale Signs Of Recurrent Child Firesetting.
- Fires of unknown origin found in your home.
- Small burn holes in carpets, charred paper in sinks or wastebaskets.
- Matches or lighters hidden in your child's closet or under his bed.
- An unusual fascination with fires and burning buildings that comes up in the child's conversation.
If any of these behaviors go unchecked, children who experiment with fireplay are more likely to continue this behavior as adults. Therefore, any child who has shown an interest in match or fireplay should be referred to the FireWatch program.
For more information on the FireWatch program, contact the Camden County Fire Marshal's Office at:
(856) 374-6218 Fax