YFS 101

Signs to Look For

  • Burned items found in the home or where the youth frequents.
  • Spent matches found in places that cannot be explained.
  • Missing matches/lighters or the discovery of hording of these items by children.
  • Unexplained burns on hands or to hair.
  • High interest in fire or fire related items or activities.

What to Do

Fire Service

The fire service needs to first maximize their community position youth firesetting. They should encourage intervention prior to an event that requires an emergency response. The community should not feel threatened coming to the fire service for help when they realize a child has an inordinate interest in fire. The fire service must also be competently trained in the important educational concepts and delivery of fire prevention (to be distinguished from fire survival).

When proactive prevention does not work, the fire service must be connected to the community to transition children/families to the services needed to interrupt the pattern of behavior leading to the firesetting problems.

The fire service must be a zealous advocate for community safety. When they speak, people listen (from judges to legislators). Representing safety to these entities is a powerful tool to wield.

Juvenile Justice

While we, as a Juvenile Justice discipline, do not currently have a set of recommended criteria when dealing with a youth firesetter, there are programs and professionals we can recommend. Please email MatchBook’s publication manager to get connected with the appropriate individual. Email Morgan at mcallahan@matchbookjournal.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Pediatric Burn Care

In order for professionals in the burn care discipline to be prepared for youth firesetters, we need to spread awareness of what youth firesetting is. This allows us to know the appropriate questions to ask at the time of admission to a burn hospital or burn care unit.

The admission and intake process is important in identifying the needs of the child, thus identifying the best treatment program and allowing for better communication between the burn hospital and the other disciplines involved in treatment. Upon completion of a program, it is also important for burn hospitals to be involved in the discharge process and post-discharge treatment planning.


Many times it is a teacher or school administrator who will first notice a student’s firesetting behavior. This can be a complex issue and difficult subject to bring up. While MatchBook does not advocate a specific course of action that can be used for every child, ideally the first step is to contact the caregiver. Secondly, by contacting your local fire department, you can find out if there is someone on staff who specializes in fire education. Additionally, MatchBook’s online community will hopefully provide you with the necessary resources to find the appropriate professional.

Get Involved

Youth firesetting behaviors are learned. This learning comes from many sources but begins in the home. From that point, many elements of the community have an opportunity to intervene, and long before firesetting requires the response of the fire services. Consider the following:

Fire Service

Becoming involved in youth firesetting intervention can be very easy if a program is already operating in your department or area. Efforts will likely be welcomed and if the program is sound, it will have the structure to help you find a place where your skills can be best used.

Involvement in the youth firesetting intervention movement takes nothing more than a desire to help. The outcomes for not joining in are painfully obvious when a child-set fire results in a damaged home, a burn injury, or a death. In fact, those at greatest risk for death in a child-set fire are preschool-age children. These young children are least able to advocate for themselves or protect themselves. This should certainly be motivation to look behind the door.

If a program does not already exist in your community, the road may be more challenging. Vision, salesmanship, and teamwork become the necessary tools. Teamwork needs high emphasis since youth firesetting behaviors are a community problem, not owned only by the fire service.

The best starting point may be outside the fire service. A knock on the door of the mental health, child welfare, medical, law enforcement, or juvenile justice community may find willing partners. Even non-profit, child-safety advocate groups have championed youth firesetting intervention in the community.

The fire service is ripe with opportunity to perform service to society. The traditional response services are one of the purest forms of community involvement. When someone is in need, the fire service responds. Sometimes the real need is less spectacular or dramatic than we might expect. Sometimes it’s behind a door that barely gets our attention. But the need is most certainly there. Consider this an invitation to serve.

If viable options cannot be found in your community, contact larger advocacy organizations like MatchBook Journal or SOS FIRES: Youth Intervention Programs. Their existence intends to support the very efforts necessary to create and sustain intervention efforts for kids with fire.

Mental Health

Firesetting is a behavior that is most often rooted in something that can be influenced. Often, it is a lack of knowledge, something a trained and qualified fire service professional can address. But sometimes, kids set fires for reasons associated with stress or crisis. Yes, the firesetting itself can be dangerous. But addressing the root issues causing stress or crisis can go a long way. Consider the fire service an ally in the quest for safe behavior.

Juvenile Justice

Early intervention has become an important concept and can apply to youth firesetting as well. It isn’t necessary to wait for children to commit crimes to provide diversion or punishment. The fire service is positioned to discover behaviors before they evolve to delinquency and/or crime. Partnerships can lead to reduced workloads for all, and ultimately a safer situation for the community and the families needing service.

Pediatric Burn Care

You have enjoyed a natural connection with the fire service due to the inherent risk incurred by firefighters. This relationship can go further. Many successful youth firesetting programs are housed in burn units, and many burn units supplement intervention programs in a number of ways. When considering community safety, and especially that of young children, no opportunity for partnership should be overlooked.


Help children understand the dangers of fire. Yes, it should be covered in the home (you’re not using fire in school, so why should it be addressed…) but in case parents do not, someone must. While firefighters may visit your school, they typically spend all their time on skills need to respond to a fire after it starts (stop, drop, roll; crawl low under smoke; have a safe meeting place; etc.). It is much harder and takes much more skill to discuss an important concept such as “matches and lighters are tools for adults, not toys for children.” Addressing this single topic might make an incredible difference in a child’s life.


Help your children understand that fire is to be respected and is literally a tool for grown ups, not something for children. Children are often empowered to use fire long before they are capable of understanding its dangers. In fact, candles (on birthday cakes and other places) present one of the earliest opportunities for children to master the use of fire. Carefully consider these situations and be sure that children understand the safety considerations that are going on with each use of fire. Be sure and tell kids what you expect them to do, do not just criticize them after a mistake. These open communications will go a long way to defeating firesetting before it ever begins.