Figures compiled by the National Fire Protection Association in the United States show that around 40 per cent of children who perish in home fires actually started the fires themselves. Furthermore, more than 1 out of every eight fatal structure fires was set by a child under the age of 15. Those startling statistics show that child fire starters are a serious threat to themselves and others. But there are ways to address the problem. If your child is playing with fire or shows signs of being overly interested in fire, please call our Fire Prevention Division at 519-537-3412 ext. 5203 or e-mail our Public Information Coordinator
Why Do Children Start Fires
Many young children show natural curiosity about fire. It's a good idea to teach them to understand fire and what it can do. Once children know the dangers of playing with fire, they should act accordingly. Some children do not and there are many reasons. Here are some of the danger signs when fire starting behaviour is displayed:
You can prevent most fire setting by following these three steps:
- When a child is upset about upheaval in their life, such as family break-ups or the death of a loved one.
- There is abuse in the household.
- The child is bullied at school.
- Chronic failure, often caused by a learning disability, is displayed.
- The child needs to assert power, while feeling powerless about something beyond their control.
Step 1: Teach your child about fire.
- Fire is a tool we use to heat our homes or cook our food
- Fire is not a toy
- If matches or lighters are found give them to an adult
- Even adults must follow special safety rules for fire
Step 2: Control your child's access to fire
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children
- Never allow the unsafe use of lighters or matches in your home
- Never leave cooking or candles unattended
- Teach children to bring found matches and lighters to you or another grown-up
Step 3: Set a good example
- Install and maintain smoke alarms
- Plan and practice your home fire escape plan
- Regularly inspect your home for fire hazards
- Teach children to Stop, Drop & Roll, should their clothing catch on fire
The following is a list of "Red Flags" or indicators that your child may have a serious fire-setting problem. If your child has set more than one fire or has had more than one incident of fireplay and one or more of the following, you are encouraged to seek professional help:
It is important not to frighten or scare your child. Don't punish him/her for being curious about the world and the fascinating things in it. These tactics don't work because they don't teach your child anything about fire. Instead, talk to your child in a calm, assured manner, explaining your worry for his/her safety.
- Recent changes in behaviour
- Attention deficits, temper tantrums, mood swings, impulsive behaviour or excessive anger
- Problems at school, such as discipline, learning problems or unexplained absences
- Other troublesome behaviours such as stealing, lying, and drug or alcohol use
- Deliberate efforts to collect fire materials
- Failed to get help to extinguish a fire
- Shows extreme curiosity about fire
- Recent losses due to health, divorce, loss of friendships, move, etc.
- History of being abused or neglected
- Sad, withdrawn appearance
- Poor self esteem and family stresses
- Daydreams about fire
- Boasts about setting fires
- Aggressive behaviour toward people or animals
- Behaviours indicating he/she is a loner, a risk taker or a fighter
- Fire set deliberately to harm others or to destroy property
- Fire set out of anger or in response to a family problem