Iowa firefighters, law-enforcement officers, fire marshals and even mental-health workers attended a conference today (Tuesday) in Des Moines to learn more about kids who set fires. Bob Crandall retired as a firefighter from Rochester, New York after 31 years on the job and helped form “Fireproof Children,” a consulting group that helps teach local investigators about arson involving minors. He says not every kid who lights a fire is showing symptoms of deep trouble. They found 90-percent of kids who caused a reported fire don’t do it again, because they learned what the consequences are. Crandall says that helps educators and counselors design program to teach that 90-percent of curious kids safety and prevent them from setting fires the first time. But he says the problem’s underestimated. Crandall says arson is the only crime for which more juveniles are arrested than adults, and that’s been the case since 1994. Of a fatal fire recently in Griswold that involved accusations of child abuse, bigamy, and other crimes, Crandall says it’s a case where something should have been done long before the fire was set by a teen who says she wanted to kill her stepfather. Crandall says it shows that society’s “missed an enormous number of opportunities to interact with those kids” before they got into a situation resolved in the legal system. He hopes to help Iowa agencies set up programs to teach parents how to keep a home safe and teach their children in turn about the dangers of fire. Crandall says they can help prevent fires set by curious kids as well as those acting out big problems. “There’s not anything unique,” he says. “A kid who comes from a difficult family responds to traditional treatment options,” despite some myths about fire-starters. He says when his group began its work two decades ago all they could find was research on arsonists who’d been institutionalized. Such kids and families have the same problems many others do, and while some may be dysfunctional or pathological in ways, there’s no “unique root issues,” their involvement with fire is what brings more attention to them, and tends to “drive” the services aimed at them by public agencies. While Crandall’s work will reassure parents concerned because they’ve found a kid experimenting with matches, he says it’s important to set clear rules, keep lighters and other materials put away…and pay attention when fire-setting may be a symptom of serious problems. Crandall says a national project has brought him and the training group “Fireproof Children” to about 28 states now.
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