The MB Community

About the MB Community

The MB Community is made up from the communities and professions that are effected by youth firesetting.


About the Fire Services Community

The fire service plays a prominent role in the field of youth firesetting intervention. In the case of child-set fires, the first contact many will have is with the fire service. This may occur due to the circumstances of the fire department response or because of the positive image most fire agencies enjoy in the community.

Most consider the fire service to be a community helper. This provides an opportunity for the fire service to establish a rapport with children and families like no other discipline. With this comes a responsibility to embrace the skills necessary to engage families with intervention.

With the challenges facing today’s fire services, it may not be possible to provide a full range of services, which would include youth firesetting intervention. However, community networking and participation in multi-disciplinary coalitions is always an option. The fire service, in their dedication to community safety, is well positioned to remain involved, even when it is impossible to take a leadership role.

Youth firesetting was long thought to be a fire service problem. It is now known to be a community problem that requires community involvement to address. The fire service is uniquely positioned to discover the behavior and intervene when children set fires.

  • Emergency response crews arrive at fire scenes when children have set fires. They can gather information, establish rapport with families, provide information and perspective on the behavior, and make appropriate referrals to a program or intake process.
  • Fire prevention (educators, fire marshal’s) personnel may spearhead programs to provide intervention services to children and families. They often have access to schools, businesses, and other community venues and events where citizens gather. While intervention is a secondary prevention strategy, an understanding of youth firesetting behaviors and programs can enhance primary prevention programs in the community.
  • Fire investigation will typically identify youth-set fires. When this occurs, intervention, prosecution, and/or referral become options. The fire investigator can strongly influence the direction of the intervention and set the tone for families and how involved they may be.
  • Community volunteers involved in a wide range of fire service activities and programs can serve as members of an intervention coalition. Many fire agencies make excellent use of skilled volunteers to oversee and deliver youth firesetting intervention.
  • Administrative staff within fire agencies should be skilled at triaging phone calls with service questions for fire department services. Adding youth firesetting to the menu is easy and plays to a logical community contact point.

Issues Facing the Fire Services Community

  • The fire service is response oriented. Prevention and intervention programs are often a low priority. Staffing assignments may not be based on skill and interest. At times, it might be predicated on physical limitations (to emergency response capabilities) or as a necessity for future promotions or desirable assignments.
  • The fire service may not embrace community involvement. While it is certainly important to work with the community, assignment as a liaison to community groups and coalitions takes time which may not be allocated.
  • The fire service may not embrace programs. It is common for fire departments to continually “re-start” youth firesetting intervention programs. This usually happens because the spark plug who championed the program retired, promoted, transferred, or otherwise moved on and a replacement was not assigned until the problem again became acute. A program that is truly embraced by a fire agency will be perpetuated when a vacancy occurs, much like all other priority assignments in a fire department.
  • The fire service does not understand the nature of youth firesetting. The fact is, many communities cannot say that they have or do not have a youth firesetting issue to address. Data collection is lax in many communities. As many as 2/3 of fire departments may not be reporting information to the national system, and probably not locally when that is the case.

About the Mental Health Community

Mental health professionals provide assessment and treatment services, conduct research, deliver trainings, and consult to other professional groups associated with youth firesetting. Working as counselors, case managers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and family therapists they work in variety of settings including community mental health centers, residential centers and group homes, court clinics, public and private schools, and youth corrections facilities.

Issues Facing the Mental Health Community

Mental health and social service professionals are currently limited by the lack of credible and reliable youth firesetting information available to them in their university/college training programs or in ongoing professional development opportunities. As a result, our national leadership organizations (APA, NASW, AMFT, etc.) are unable to respond effectively and systematically to address this knowledge gap.

A lack of evidenced based and published guidelines for best practice responding create an environment where children and adolescents who engage in firesetting, and become known to a mental health professional, can be responded to in highly individualistic way that can span from gross over pathologizing to quite dangerous under responding or minimizing.

There is an absence of a national or international organizing body that could serve to promote in a more active way the sharing of information in the field, increase opportunities to collaborate in research, and to promote training and professional development opportunities.


About the Juvenile Justice Community

The Juvenile Justice system, as it relates to youth firesetting, involves several partner agencies. We work closely with Police Departments, Fire Departments and County District Attorney’s Offices to take a multi-disciplinary approach to prevention and prosecution. Juvenile Justice systems vary by location. For example, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a community based Juvenile Diversion Program, which plays a significant role in working with at-risk-youth in the community by providing multiple services to youths and their families. This program works in conjunction with the Police Department, Fire Department and County Attorney’s Office to determine a proper response to the individual youth who set a fire by offering psychological evaluations and treatments, family counseling, and other services geared towards prevention and rehabilitation. Like many other Police Departments, Cambridge also supports an Arson Investigator who collaborates with the local Fire Department to investigate suspicious fires.

While the make-up of Juvenile Justice systems are different all over the world, the objective of our system in the United States remains very similar across the board. We aim to deliver the fairest method of persecutory response while incorporating treatment and rehabilitation programs for youths and their families.

Issues Facing the Juvenile Justice Community

Youth firesetting accounts for a large amount of the cases we deal with, yet the courts and justice system have yet to create a process specific to the behavior of youth-set fires. Because the response to such cases is so unknown to the offender and involved parties, there is an incredible amount of apprehension in communicating the behavior of youth firesetting to the juvenile justice discipline. In turn, we have little experience in working with other involved professional disciplines such as Mental Health, Schools, Fire Services and Burn Care in dealing with this challenge. As a result, we are under-equipped to properly deal with youth who set fires. The issue is that remains is developing a process for youth firesetters that involves input from other disciplines.


About the Pediatric Burn Care Community

Youth Firesetter Assessment and Intervention/Treatment Programs based out of hospital Burn Care Centers are an important extension of community resources available to parents who find themselves faced with understanding and resolving this very dangerous behavior. In some Centers this resource is limited to burn injured patients treated at that facility. Other Centers accept outside referrals as well with a focus on collaborative, coordinated services. Educational interventions can be provided by a cross section of trained Burn Team Staff. A JFS Program providing comprehensive assessment and treatment requires the services of Mental Health Professionals.

Issues Facing the Pediatric Burn Care Community

  • Making the evaluation and treatment culturally sensitive and appropriate.
  • Tracking recidivism with families in crisis who often make frequent moves.
  • Coordinating recidivism rates with other disciplines.
  • Accessing referrals from outside sources and maintaining a consistent referral base.
  • Maintaining a safe hospital environment given the firesetting behavior.
  • Funding issues that will support being able to serve all JFS patients needing our services.
  • Family involvement in treatment is critical but often challenging.
  • We are a separate system from the courts and fire departments and do not have the leverage to require families to participate without the connection to those systems.
  • It is both an advantage and a challenge that hospitals are not connected to any specific fire, legal, school district, or county. Often we may be interfacing with multiple counties within a metro area.

ADVANTAGES of hospital based programs

  • Connection to other services within the hospital (e.g., medical, higher acuity mental health).
  • Evaluation and support to other services in the community.
  • Wealth of mental health and medical training and experience.

About the Schools Community

Schools serve as a practical space for fire education and treatment, thus playing an integral role in youth firesetting. The school community consists of public schools, private schools, teachers, administrators, parents, caregivers and students. Public Schools, with unique access to students and their caregivers, have the ability to reach the plurality of students. Private Schools of all specialties also have a responsibility to educate students about firesetting. Additionally, there are Private Schools that specialize in youth firesetting behavior.

Issues Facing the Schools Community

While it makes sense for fire education to occur in the classroom or a school setting, it is important that school teachers and administrators are properly supported by other involved professional disciplines. Furthermore, since fire education is not mandatory in the United States, it would be helpful for schools to communicate curriculum ideas, problems and solutions with each other.


About the Caregivers Community

In our discussions up to this point, we found Juvenile Justice, Schools, Burn Care, Mental Health and Fire Services to comprise major components of prevention and treatment of youth firesetting. There are of course other individuals and parties who are involved in this challenge. Caregivers often times play a large if not central role in both prevention and treatment. Many times treatment programs heavily involve caregivers, as with fire prevention education, especially at a young age.

We hope MatchBook will serve as an equally helpful space for caregivers and other disciplines alike. For suggestions on how to make MatchBook more accessible and accommodating, please submit your ideas here: mcallahan@matchbookjournal.org

Additionally, here are some resources:

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