At one time it was a concern, but the Regina fire department has found the way to pretty well extinguish the problem of children setting dangerous fires.
The department published articles in the industry magazine Firefighting In Canada to highlight how members were able to work with a group of youth to stop them from starting potentially dangerous and deadly fires.
Angela Prawzick, with Regina Fire and Protective Services, said just over three years ago a number of fires began to be reported in North Central. They started with garbage bins but eventually spread to garages and sheds, vehicles, even homes.
“These children who were setting fires were setting more fires and more dangerous fires,” said Prawzick. “At its peak, these children were involved in setting a fire at a house, a house that was occupied by a family with young children.”
She said they barely escaped.
During the course of the investigations, authorities discovered many of these fires had one common element involved. Gasoline.
“Very, very unusual for us in our history of working with children here at the fire department…children don’t normally use gasoline to set fires.”
In a collaborative effort between the fire department, police and schools, the kids were eventually identified. Prawzick said they were all younger than 13 years old.
One child was charged.
A number of community groups worked with all the kids to identify the root causes of why they were setting fires to begin with.
Prawzick said kids aren’t setting fires for something like insurance fraud, but instead because they’re acting out.
“Children don’t set fires to burn things down. There’s a reason in their lives, there’s something happening in their lives and they’re expressing that through fire,” she said.
Once the community groups were able to figure out why the children were sparking fires, Prawzick said they were connected to the right supports. In some cases, that included being directed to Social Services. In addition, children were introduced to the Youth Firesetter Intervention Program.
After this education, Prawzick said a noticeable change came about.
“These children immediately stopped setting fires. Immediately. So the threat to themselves stopped and the threat to the community stopped.”
Fast forward to present day and a remarkable turnaround has not only arisen, but stuck. It’s something she hasn’t seen in her 23 years with the fire department.
“I have never seen child fire setting levels this low. They are at record lows.”
By sharing their story, Prawzick hopes other communities faced with a similar problem can learn and adapt from Regina’s experience.