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Brattleboro's Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention Program

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Juvenile Fire Setters Program

The Brattleboro Fire Department has initiated a Juvenile Firesetters Intervention Program (JFIP). The goal of the JFIP is to define and change fire setting behavior of youth throughout the Brattleboro area. The JFIP creates an identification/referral/educational process for local youth indentified as juvenile firesetters. Nationwide, more than 28,000 residential fires occur annually due to fire play. Sadly, nearly 1,000 of those children die in the fire that they started. Although curiosity is a normal part of a child's growth and development, curiosity about fire should be taken very seriously.

Categories of Juvenile Fire Setters

Curious Fire Setters: Children up to age ten. These juveniles accidentally set fires while playing with matches and lighters. These very young children who start fires have no intent to destroy and are usually not bent on destruction, but rather are simply curious or facinated by the flames.

Problem Ridden Fire Setters: This is the largest percentage of fire setters and is often described as a cry for help.

Delinquent Fire Setters: These make up approximately 14% of fires set by juveniles. These are juveniles acting out against authority and are usually older males from age ten to age seventeen.

Mentally Disturbed Fire Setters: These are extreme cases and are relatively rare.

How Does the Program Work?

The JFIP is available to any youth up to the age of 17. Referrals to the JFIP may be made by parents, caregivers, friends, and relatives of the individual youth.

Interviews will be 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 fire setter. When firesetting behavior is determined to be indicative of more serious problems, educational intervention and referral to specialized social services agencies will be recommended. The Brattleboro Fire Department Juvenile Fire Setter Intervention Program is a multi-level approach to the education and/or treatment of identified juvenile involved in fire setting behavior. The program is adaptable for preschool ages through teens. Participation is voluntary except for those referred by the Juvenile authorites. The program consists of five parts, each phase has a unique role in the process, yet all are interconnected. The five parts are: identification, education, assessment, referral, and follow-up. Parents or legal guardians are required to participate in the program.

Members of the Brattleboro Fire Department who have been trained as Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention Specialists surrently administer the educational phase of the JFIP. Risk surveys are completed with the juvenile involved in the fire and parent/caregiver of the juvenile. Education is based upon results of the risk surveys and classes of fire setting. Parents and caregivers of the individual youth also receive education on identifying and preventing fire setting behavior.

Children and Fire

Children are fascinated by fire; the warm glow of a fireplace, flames flickering in a camp fire, blowing out birthday candles, watching the repetitive habit of an adult lighting up a cigarette. Children as young as two years may show interest in fire. with this natural fascination and curiosity comes the task for parents/caregivers to take fire safety precautions with younger children and to educated and train older children in fire safety.

Whether a child is merely curious about fire, making a cry for help, or engagin in delinquent behavior, children playing with fire is extremely dangerous. Children can be helped. They must receive the right kind of help though. This is not a phase that they will grow out of; it is not a matter of "boys being boys". Yelling at them, burning their fingers, or other such methods will not be effective. The reason a child plays with fire must be addressed in order to successfully address the problem. Each child must be individually assessed and receive a treatment program that may contain one or more of the following components: education, psychological help, and community service.

What is "Fire Play"?

Fire Play happens when a child, curious and unsupervised, plays with matches, lighters, an open flame, or a hot stove. This playing accidentally starts a fire that may results in a death, injury, and/or property damage. The most common circumstances that lead children to play with fire include:

-Matches, lighters or open flames within easy reach
-Lack of parental or adult supervision
-Natural curiosity about fire and a desire to experiment
-Boredom and searching for something to play with
-Previous fire play activity (the fire was easily extinguished and not discovered by and adult)

Most children who get involved in fire play can successfully be taught by parents or caregivers to channel their fire interest to competent fire safety behaviors and can avoid this extrememly dangerous behavior.

When to Seek Help

If your child has "played" with fire on more than one occasion, or has deliberately started a fire, or if you are unsure about educating your child about fire safety, you should seek help thorugh the Brattleboro Fire Department. We have trained personnel who can help the curious child to understand that playing with fire is very dangerous. Deliberate fire setting is a serious matter. Children who have deliberately started a fire may be indirectly indicating that they are having problems.

Who to Contact

For more information about the Juvenile Fire Setter Intervention Programs offered by the Brattleboro Fire Department, or to become involved in the program, please contact our Juvenile Fire Setter Intervention Specialists: Firefighter Paul Sherburne or Alarm Suerintendant Joe Newton at (802) 254-4831.

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