National Arson Awareness Week Focuses on Youth Firesetting Prevention and Education

TRENTON, N.J. –National Arson Awareness Week (May 6 through May 12) is held every year to bring attention to the crime of arson and its impact. To focus public attention on this year’s theme – preventing youth firesetting – the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Division of Fire Safety is urging families, fire and emergency services departments, law enforcement, health workers, social service groups, schools, and juvenile justice officials to join the effort to reduce the occurrence of youth engaged with fire.

“Children have a natural curiosity about fire, but fires are dangerous and deadly,” said DCA Acting Commissioner Richard E. Constable, III. “Each year in this country, fires set by children are responsible for more than 100 fire deaths, nearly 1,000 painful burn injuries, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property loss, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Furthermore, children are often the victims in these fires. For these reasons, we must make teaching youth about the dangers of fire a priority.”

The Division of Fire Safety (DFS) has some simple but important tips for preventing youth firesetting:

  • Teach children of all ages that fires are dangerous and can spread quickly.
  • Set a good example as an adult by using matches, lighters and fire responsibly and carefully.
  • Never leave matches or lighters within reach of children.
  • Use child-resistant lighters.
  • Instruct young children to inform an adult if they find matchers or lighters.
  • Understand why children set fires by looking at their motivations. For many youth, the motive is experimentation and curiosity. Motives can involve a cry for help, thrill-seeking, willful intent to cause destruction, or mental or emotional problems.
  • Contact your local fire department immediately if you suspect your child is setting fires and explain the situation to them. Fire departments may offer youth firesetting prevention and intervention programs.

The Division of Fire Safety operates a comprehensive Juvenile Firesetter Program. In cooperation with the New Jersey Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators, the Division hosts the Annual Juvenile Firesetters Prevention Conference at Middlesex Fire Academy. Last year’s 9th annual conference drew well over 150 fire officials, law enforcement, municipal officials, social service workers, and mental health advocates from the tri-state area for the two-day event. The 2012 Conference is scheduled for November 28 and 29th of this year.

In addition to the annual conference, the New Jersey State Fire Safety Commission receives advice from its Juvenile Firesetter Prevention Advisory Council comprised of firefighters, fire officials, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials who meet regularly and make recommendations through the Division of Fire Safety to the Commissioner of the DCA to reduce the instances of youth firesetting in New Jersey.

The Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The Division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code, as well as for implementing public education and firefighter training programs. For more information, log on to http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dfs/ on the DCA website.