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OSFM Raising Awareness About Youth Firesetter Prevention During Arson Awareness Week

Springfield, Ill- The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is raising awareness about the seriousness of the crime of arson during Arson Awareness Week (May 7-13). This year’s theme is Understanding and Mitigating Youth Firesetting Issues.

According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), youth firesetting is a problem throughout the United States and around the world. Fire misuse behaviors in children may be attributed to issues such as curiosity or experimentation, underlying struggles with impulse control, emotional regulation, social/interpersonal skills, childhood trauma, or other behavioral health conditions. Children observe adults using matches and lighters but may not be taught about important fire safety practices. They may also observe unsafe uses of fire in media, videos, and gaming.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports municipal fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated annual average of 52,260 intentionally set structure fires in the five-year period from 2014 to 2018. These fires caused an estimated 400 civilian deaths, 950 civilian injuries, and $815 million in direct property damage each year. Three in five intentional structure fires occurred in residential properties and most of these fires involved homes. The incidence of these fires typically peaks in March and April and again in July.

“I encourage parents and other family members to stress the importance of not playing with matches and leaving lighters alone. Kids are curious and talking to them about why they shouldn’t play with these items can reduce the risk for an accidental fire that could impact more than just your family,” said Illinois State Fire Marshal James A. Rivera. “I also encourage departments to reach out to the OSFM if they need a Youth Firesetter Interventionist and have members attend our classes we offer to become Certified Interventionists.”

OSFM’s Division of Arson currently is comprised of a Division Director, two Area Commanders, and 14 Special Agents in the field. The office staff also includes two Administrative Assistants. The OSFM has seven Accelerant Detection Canines who work with Special Agents across the state. In 2022, OSFM Special Agents responded to 1,121 investigations and canine teams assisted in 213 investigations. In 2022, the OSFM’s Arson Division closed 47 cases related to arson with an arrest.

A statewide Arson Hotline, (800) 252-2947, has been established so that citizens may anonymously provide information about a suspicious fire that has occurred or may occur.

Arson fires are preventable through education and awareness such as the Youth Firesetter Intervention Program. To request help from this program you can call 1-844-689-7882 or visit the OSFM website at www.sfm.illinois.gov.

These tips listed below can help reduce the risk of arson:

  • Keep leaves, firewood, overgrown brush, and shrubbery and other combustibles away from buildings.
  • Keep doors and windows locked when a building is unoccupied. Board up abandoned buildings. Do not use double cylinder deadbolt locks without keeping a key nearby, bars without quick release mechanisms, or other security provisions that could trap a person in a building with a deadly fire. Store all flammable liquids such as paints, gasoline, and mowers in an approved storage location: locked cabinets, locked storage units, and locked garages (prevent access to kids). Also, keep away from heat sources such as furnaces and any type of heaters. Report suspicious activity near houses or other buildings to the local police and support Neighborhood Watch programs.
  • If you suspect a child is setting fires, notify the proper authorities. Keep matches and lighters out of reach and out of sight of young children.
  • If you know or suspect that an arson crime has been committed, contact your local fire or police department.

For more information about arson prevention and the OSFM Arson Division, visit www.sfm.illinois.gov.

Chris Rhodes
Author: Chris Rhodes

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