Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention P-E-T: Prevention-Education-Treatment

The United States is experiencing an alarming trend - an epidemic of child fire play and juvenile fire-setting behaviors. Metropolitan areas, suburbs, and rural areas - all have experienced more than their share of this problem. The costs in property damage alone have topped $2 billion annually. Yet while many communities across the country are impacted by this serious issue, most of them lack a system-wide, community-collaborative approach to addressing the problem. One community where this is changing is the Lehigh Valley, an economically and culturally diverse community nestled within an hour's drive of Philadelphia and less than two hours from New York City and Harrisburg. Anchored by a triangle of cities - Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton - with a population of over 500,000, the Lehigh Valley is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in Pennsylvania. Positive change is underway with the inception of a community-wide intervention program to address the problem of child fire play, juvenile fire setting, and arson.

The Burn Prevention Foundation serves as the lead agency for a community-wide network of referral, identification, assessment, prevention, education, and treatment. When confronted with a juvenile fire setting incident, various components of the community have attempted to provide whatever assistance and information they could, based on their particular expertise or area. Independently they cannot provide the kind of comprehensive approach necessary - a proactive community-wide network approach involving parents, prevention education experts, school counselors, law enforcement, fire investigation, and training units, and other appropriate organizations. The Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention and Treatment program (with a short title of P.E.T. - Prevention, Education, and Treatment) combines the expertise and community positioning of many separate agencies and disciplines to fully and accurately intervene on this issue. The aim of the program is to prevent the onset of fire-play and curiosity fire-setting behaviors by children and to decrease fire-setting behaviors through the provision of a seamless continuum of prevention, education, and treatment among community collaborators. When a juvenile is engaging in fire play or demonstrating inappropriate use of fire, he or she is referred to the program by individuals (perhaps parents or other family members), agencies (including their schools), or the authorities. Once admitted to the program the subject will undergo an assessment to determine the severity of the problem and the appropriate course of intervention. The assessment places the subjects into three distinct categories, based on the scope and severity of the problem.

  • Curiosity - usually toddlers through age 7, who are exhibiting a normal curiosity that can lead to more serious behaviors if not addressed with an educational intervention.
  • Troubled - older children whose initial experimentation has gone unchecked and whose life experiences include a variety of challenges or situations that are emotionally troubling; the fire-setting behaviors are means of acting out - or a cry for help.
  • Extreme Severity - these are usually older adolescents in their mid to late-teen years whose behavior has escalated, often having set hundreds of fires of increasing size and destructiveness over several years.

All participants and their caregivers will attend and complete the Fire Safety Academy educational component. Those deemed as 'troubled' fire-setters will be referred to psychological counseling. Graduates of the program will receive follow-up interviews at regular intervals to determine if any inappropriate fire-related behaviors have resurfaced.

Target Participants

Children age 5 to 17 and their parents or caregivers (guardians).

Distribution Methods & Partners

Program availability is promoted by youth-serving agencies, school counselors, protective and social services officers, and juvenile justice administrators.