Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program
The Hopkins Fire Department is actively involved in Minnesota's Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program. The program is designed to utilize regional networks to reduce the incidence of injury, death, and property loss due to juvenile set fires. Through a series of progressions or phases the program is designed to address the juvenile's firesetting behavior through education.
Identifying the Problem
Not only in Minnesota, but nationwide, there is a problem facing the American people that is quite terrifying. While some may feel that it's just a phase they are in, the truth is that fires set by children are one of our nations leading fire problems.
According to FBI reports, over 53% of the arrests for arson are people under the age of 18, which is the highest percentage of juveniles involved in any crime. On an annual average, Minnesota experiences over 500 fires, 4 deaths, countless injuries, and more than 4 million dollars in property loss at the hands of children. This is truly alarming when you consider the fact that fewer than 10% of fires set by juveniles are ever reported.
Why This Child Set This Fire in This Environment
While most people have a fascination with fire, young people lack the experience necessary to make appropriate decisions in regard to fire. Whether it is out of a normal curiosity, a cry for help due to a crisis in their life, misguided or delinquent behavior, or a truly pathological disorder, it affects us all. No matter what the reason for the act, the result is the same...property loss, injury, and death. In fact, when left untreated, 81% of juveniles will repeat their firesetting behaviors. The key to a solution for this problem lies in linking the child and their family with the appropriate agency to address the behavior.
There is quite a myriad of issues pertaining to juvenile firesetting that make it a multi-discipline assignment for the community. Regional task forces consisting of police, fire, juvenile justice, mental health, social services, and other community partners meet regularly to evaluate, enhance, and train on issues pertaining to the program.
Working Towards A Solution
Once a child has been identified as a suspect in a fire, the program provides a definitive sequence of intervention techniques to bring about the best result for all to the situation.
After the initial investigation is conducted and there is a clear understanding of what offense took place, an individual and family interview and assessment is necessary to identify any need for referral to mental health, social services, or any other agency. At this point most youth will complete a fire safety education class and a restitution plan. Intervention decisions are based on the investigation findings, the social interview, any previous history, and the cooperation level of the individual and their family.
The State Fire Marshal Division has developed this program as well as a telephone help line as an opportunity for citizens to find the help they need to curb this dangerous behavior. Incoming calls will be answered by an automated system, reviewed by a Deputy State Fire Marshal, and forwarded to a local authority for assistance.
Tips for Caregivers
Caregivers have the primary responsibility to serve as role models, to be a source of comfort and support, to nurture, and to teach. A major portion of the responsibilities is to ensure a safe environment and reach safe behaviors. Effectively done, these lessons will not only impact the child, but the community as a whole:
- Set a good example: Install and maintain smoke alarms, always use fire in a safe manner.
- Take responsibility for fire: Teach you child fire safe behaviors and plan and practice escape drills from the home.
- Control access to fire: Keep all ignition devices our of reach of children.
- Identify telltale signs: Watch for evidence of children misusing fire, and use it as a positive teaching tool.
- Develop a positive identity: Children with self esteem make better decisions and are less likely to fall victim to peer pressure.
- Provide boundaries: Clear and consistent consequences for violating rules provides positive structure to a child's life.