This year’s National Arson Awareness Week ran from May 6 to 12 and the theme was “Juvenile Fire Setting.” The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and the Burn Institute held a community event during the afternoon of Saturday, May 12, at the City Heights Park and Recreation Center. Firefighters and paramedics, Burn Institute staff, and Mid-City police officers talked to approximately 300 kids about fire prevention and safety. This effort was the result of a safety strategy that arose from the Fire Department and Burn Institute partnering with the City Heights Community and Canyons Alliance to focus on awareness and prevention training for youth.
Fires set by youths are often referred to as preventable arson. Each year in this country, fires set by children are responsible for more than 100 deaths, nearly 1,000 burn injuries, and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in property, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Children are often the victims in these fires.
The best way to understand why children set fires is to look at their motivations. Motives can involve curiosity, a cry for help, thrill-seeking, or willful intent to cause destruction. Some children also set fires because they suffer from mental or emotional problems. If you suspect your child is setting fires, you are not the only parent ever to face this problem. Contact your local fire department immediately. Explain the situation to them. In the San Diego region, the Burn Institute (www.burninstitute.org) runs the program for juveniles who set fires – they take referrals from fire departments, police, and parents.
The most important lesson for children is that matches and lighters are tools, not toys. Parents should never use lighters, matches, and fire for fun; children will mimic you, and when they do it unsupervised, tragedy can result. Praise your child for practicing responsible behavior and showing respect for fire. Set a good example: use matches, lighters, and fire carefully, as children will imitate positive behavior too.
- Always supervise young children.
- Never leave matches or lighters within reach of children. Keep matches and lighters out of reach in high, locked cabinets.
- Use child-resistant lighters, but remember that they are not child proof.
- Instruct young children to inform an adult if they find matches or lighters.
And, as always, be fire safe at home. Inspect for fire hazards, install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and ensure fire sprinklers, if present, are operational. Have a family fire escape plan and practice it so your kids will know what to do without being told if a fire occurs. Find out more online at http://www.sandiego.gov/fire/safety/.
Ed Filio is with the San Diego Fire Department