Juvenile firesetting is a growing and largely untreated problem in our nation today. Locally, in any given year, juveniles start 25% to 40% of the fires in the City. Recognizing the need for an intervention program, the Altoona Fire Department Juvenile Firesetter Program was established. This Program is an aggressive intervention program.
The act of juveniles playing with fire might seem non-threatening, but can create havoc in only a matter of seconds with devastating life-long consequences. This applies not only to the juvenile, but also to other individuals in the immediate area. 'Curiosity' is the reason commonly given for a child who plays with a lighter, a pack of matches, burns candles to play with the wax, or magnifies sunlight to start a fire. Often this is the case with the behavior stabilizing within normal limits. But, for the juvenile who is trying to cope with dysfunctional family stress, who seeks attention, has low self-esteem, is hyperactive, displays delinquent behavior, or has psychological problems, fire setting is a way to cope with his underlying feelings.
This behavior is both learned and progressive that commonly does not go away on its own. Societal fire traditions are usually based around pleasant experiences. Candles on a birthday cake, Christmas candles, July 4th fireworks, campfires with marshmallows, hotdogs, etc., bonfires, and fireplaces are usually enjoyable experiences for the child that bring people together. Juvenile firesetters are usually trying to recreate those 'good time feelings' when they set fires as a cry for help to cope with their problems. Left unchecked this behavior is often found to continue and worsen with time as their problems become more severe.
Our juvenile firesetter program is designed to intervene in this destructive behavior. The intervention process begins with an initial interview and assessment followed by the planning and implementation of a strategy. The initial interview will usually be conducted with two firefighters, the child and the parents. By first identifying the juvenile and assessing the level of firesetting behavior, we can then recommend family fire safety practices, prevention education classes, and/or professional counseling services.
Addressing juvenile firesetting will help prevent fires in our community.