HAVE YOU SEEN THESE SIGNS?
- Fires of unknown origin found in your home?
- Small burn holes in carpets, charred paper in sinks or
- Matches or lighters hidden in your child’s closet or under
- An unusual fascination with fires and burning buildings
that comes up in the child’s conversation?
If any of these behaviors go unchecked, children who
experiment with fireplay are more likely to continue this
behavior as adults. Therefore, any child who has shown an
interest in matches or fireplay should be referred to the
- The U.S. has one the highest fire death rates in the
industrialized world. For 1998, the U.S. fire death rate was
14.9 deaths per million population.
- Fire is the third leading cause of accidental death in the
home; at least 80 percent of all fire deaths occurs in
- Senior citizens age 70 and over and children under age
5 have the greatest risk of fire death.
- The fire death risk for children under age 5 is nearly
double the risk of the average population.
- Children under the age of 10 accounted for an estimated 17
percent of all fire deaths in 1996.
- Of every 100 children who die in fires in the U.S., 24 are
killed because of children playing with fire.
What is FireWatch?
The Somerset County FireWatch Program began in April 1999 and
has a mission to reduce fire-setting behavior in children from
early childhood through 17 years of age using prevention,
identification, education and treatment. Using trained fire
service personnel affiliated with the FireWatch program,
referred youth and parents sit down together with an Evaluator
to conduct a fire-setting behavior evaluation. This process
includes an evaluation interview done with the child, an
evaluation interview done with the parent/s, a parent
questionnaire and a child drawing assignment.
Every child who receives a FireWatch evaluation is referred
to a trained fire department Fire Safety Educator to discuss
fire prevention and to review fire safety concepts. Parents
whose children are evaluated as having a higher risk of future
fire-setting behavior are given referrals for family therapy
with a FireWatch trained mental health clinician. The fees for
this service are the responsibility of the family, but all
referrals are made to agencies with sliding scale fee schedules
that consider the financial burdens of the family.
All information from the interview is confidential and is
shared only within the FireWatch program unless a release signed
by the parents is received.
The FireWatch Evaluation establishes three levels of risk of
future fire setting behavior: Level I – little concern –
which means that the child’s fire setting will most likely be
resolved by the presentation of an educational intervention.
Level II – definite concern – is a term for fire-setting
behavior that is a reaction to some type of stress, crisis or
dysfunction within their life. Level III – extreme
concern – represents children who have an immediate need for
some type of intervention beyond education, and would require
services beyond the scope of the FireWatch Program. Referral for
immediate services would be made.
You can prevent most fire setting!
- Teach very young children that fire is a tool we
use to cook food or heat the home. It is not magic. It is
dangerous and only for adults to use carefully. (Use the
example of driving a car or using power tools)
- Keep all matches and lighters out of the reach of very
young children. Even a 2-year old can easily work a cigarette
- Have children bring matches to you and reward them or
praise them when they do.
- If an older child is curious about matches, show him or
her the proper and safe way to use them. Explain why it is
important to use matches only when needed and with an adult
- Set a good example. Always be careful with matches and
fire (including candles). Keep your home fire safe and let
your children help you identify fire hazards with you. Make it
a family activity.
FEMA Fire Safety & Education site –
FEMA Kids page for fire safety –
Arson Prevention information –
SOS Fire Youth Intervention Programs –