Previous Issues

A Call For Change in our Industry

By Don Porth

Mar 6, 2010 Back


Fire services spend countless hours preparing for any and all types of emergencies. If a child sets a fire, the response is prompt and efficient. The fire is extinguished and the cause is determined, but what about the child? What about the family? This is the moment in time to slow down the pace and begin an intervention that can have long term implications on the child, family, and community. Are fire services prepared for this?

With these questions come a call for change in our industry; no longer are speed, strength, and agility the only considerations in job performance. Critical factors become interpersonal relations, empathy, and patience. While professionals with these skills are present in fire services, few have really been given the mandate and the opportunity to develop the skills needed for this interpersonal type of work.

When approximately half of all intentionally set fires are set by youth, we need to know where the skills and knowledge to accommodate these factors are available. We’ve found they most often exist outside the walls of any fire station. They exist in schools, mental health and social service agencies, juvenile justice venues, pediatric burn care facilities, and many other places.

Pride is an admirable quality. Pride drives the passion and preparedness of the fire service and accounts for the outstanding service most communities enjoy. It can, however, be an obstacle to effective intervention. Firesetting behaviors are a community problem, not just a fire services problem. Recognizing this opens the door to many intervention options, but partnering with the community can be difficult. It means sharing ownership over prevention and education with others. It means admitting the inability to handle the youth firesetting challenge alone even though we are first in line to respond to many of the consequences. It means trusting other individuals and industries to help with something that in many ways directly affects and belongs to us. What it really means, however, is that part of this pride must be shared for an effective youth firesetting intervention effort to succeed.

Path to Solution

As a member of fire services for the past 29 years, I’ve seen dramatic change as we learn to think differently on many different topics.The time has come to expand our perspective on kids and fire. I have joined MatchBook’s editorial board to promote better communication between all disciplines in the youth firesetting arena. In my belief, each fire service and fire department throughout the country should have at least one person trained in juvenile firesetting. This person should focus on developing working relationships with individuals in mental health, schools, burn hospitals and juvenile justice. By knowing and understanding the other disciplines involved in youth firesetting intervention, more comprehensive approaches to the problem can be developed.

About The Author

Don Porth

Don Porth is a member of Portland Oregon Fire & Rescue. He joined the fire service in 1980 as a volunteer and was then hired by the Salem Oregon Fire Department before transferring to Portland. He is currently a youth firesetting interventions specialist and has worked directly with child firesetting behaviors since 1988. His implementation of the youth firesetting information database has made Portland’s program one of the most noted in the nation. Don is a member of the National Fire Protection Association as a steering committee member for addressing the national youth firesetting problem, and past Chair of Oregon Council Against Arson. Don holds a BS in Fire Command Administration from City University. Don represents “SOS FIRES: Youth Intervention Programs.” SOS FIRES is a non-profit advocacy organization for the issue of youth firesetting intervention. SOS FIRES provides training, conducts research and facilitates communication on the issue of youth firesetting behaviors. Founded in 1996, SOS FIRES strives to serve the national needs surrounding youth firesetting behaviors and intervention programs.