I recently heard that a friend of mine was dealing with the aftermath of a fire in his home. The fire involved a sofa that caught fire, as a result of a child playing with a lighter or matches. I have written about this subject, on numerous occasions. My expertise on this subject is tied to two years, 2004-2006, where I re-wrote and managed the Juvenile Firesetter Program for Chesterfield Fire & EMS. You may say, “That’s too long to know what is happening in 2019 concerning children and fire setting.” The fact of the matter is that every child in every generation is fascinated by fire. The issue comes when they gain access to fire setting items like matches or lighters or are allowed to play around a burning fire of any type.
Children go through stages concerning their interest in fire, although not every child will progress beyond the curiosity or playing with fire stage. Most will learn the dangers of fire from their parents and steer clear of it. Parental supervision and parental actions have a lot to do with what the child will do. For the child who moves through the stages, I wanted to lay out the progression, noting that intervention can occur at any stage. As I said a moment ago, the first stage deals with a child’s curiosity about fire. For some children, curiosity progresses to children playing with or feeling like they have control over fire. Realizing that every situation may be a little different, this is the stage where siblings or friends get involved or are intimately affected by the issue. From here, things may progress to a more dangerous level, requiring greater levels of intervention. Some children will use fire with malicious intent, while others will develop a psychosis or other mental issue surrounding their fire setting behavior. Again, whatever stage a child is at, there are steps of intervention available.
You may ask, “How do I get the help that my child and I need?” The first thing that I would say is that some parents will have to overcome feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, denial or failure, concerning this issue. Never overcoming these things could lead to children never getting the help that they need. For the parent that recognizes this need for help, there are three ways to get it. The first way is for parents to notice a problem with their child playing with fire. One indication would be finding burned areas in your home. You can call your local fire department to see what they have available. For Chesterfield Fire & EMS, you would call the Fire & Life Safety Division at 748-1426. Another way for a child to get needed help is after a fire has occurred and the fire department has to respond. Firefighters or investigators could make the notification that a child needs this intervention. The third way for a child to receive the needed help is by it being court-ordered from a judge. In the first two cases, the parent has a choice to make of whether to seek the help or not, realizing that the fire investigator could make charges dependent on whether or not a child goes through a particular program. The court-ordered program takes the decision out of the hands of the parents. Whatever the case, putting your child through a Juvenile Firesetting Program is not a bad thing, especially if the desired result occurs, which is changed behavior.
Preventing access to matches and lighter is paramount to a problem not occurring in your home. If you have a child who is displaying these tendencies, then you must do everything possible to protect your family, by installing more smoke alarms, if necessary, and getting your child the help that he or she needs. The easiest stage to deal with children is usually when they are educated at the youngest ages. Do not think that young children cannot figure out how to strike a match or get a lighter to ignite. This may be an infrequent cause of fires, but many have had the most devastating outcomes. Do what is necessary to keep your family safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving.