More than 50 fire service and law enforcement officers have taken special training to head off fires started by children.
National and state figures show high numbers of young people playing with fire and starting fires that often destroy property and sometimes cause injuries or even fatalities. State fire marshall Randy Cole says fire inspectors and investigators and fire educators need to know how to work with young people–and their parents–to head off problems.
Cole says there is a variety of reasons a child plays with fire and some act out in dangerous ways. He says it’s important that a trained person be called upon early. That person can recognize if there are issues with that indicate future trouble, and can either recomment actions by parents or professional help.
He says it’s important to identify a problem before it gets into the juvenile system or before somebody is hurt or their home is destroyed.
National figures show people younger than 18 account for about 55 percent of all arson arrests, and nearly half of the acts are committed by children younger than 15. Cole says parents with questions or concerns can contact his office which can recommend a nearby trained professional.
The Division of Fire Safety has released additional information about local contacts and tips for parents. Listed below are current team points of contact and the areas in Missouri in which they provide juvenile fire prevention programs:
* St. Louis area (Counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin, Warren, Lincoln, Jefferson)
* Linda Hansen – Burns Recovered Support Group (314-997-2757)
* Mary Emge – O’Fallon Fire Protection District (314-997-2757)
* Gary Rieth – Burns Recovered Support Group (314-878-1892 x 220)
* Sheila Frost – Eureka Fire Protection District (636-938-5505)
* Sedalia area – Cindy Harrell – Sedalia Police Department (660-826-8100 or 660-826-8044)
* Kansas City area (Jackson County and surrounding counties); Tom Wade – Independence Fire Department (816-325-7134)
* St. Roberts/Ft. Leonard Wood area; Chuck Fraley – St. Roberts Fire Department (573-596-0886)
* Bob Sperberg – Ft. Leonard Wood Fire Department (573-596-0131)
* Lake of the Ozarks area–Chris Bachman – Mid-County Fire Protection District (573-346-2049)
* Greene County/Springfield area–Ben Basham – Springfield Fire Department (417-864-1511 or 417-864-1500)
Parents are encouraged to learn key danger signs if their child has shown an interest in starting fires. If your child is exhibiting fire setting behavior, you and your family are at a higher risk. The odds double that you will experience a fire in your home if this situation exists.
What to look for:
* Child has “accidentally” started more than one fire;
* Child lacks the understanding of fire’s destructiveness;
* Child shows an interest in matches or lighters;
* Child has trouble making friends;
* Child has difficulty adjusting to traumatic life changes (death, divorce, moving);
* Conflict within the family;
* Child has fighting and other behavior problems at school/home;
* Child has temper tantrums resulting in property damage or harm to people and animals;
* Child has a hard time feeling or expressing guilt.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is striving to establish trained teams in other areas of the state to ensure all parents have accessibility to such a valuable resource. The National Fire Protection Association indicates 85 percent of juvenile fire play goes unreported.
To contact the Missouri Division of Fire Safety please call 573-751-2930 or you may visit the Division’s web site.