Fires are the leading cause of death in the home for children under the age of five The National Fire Prevention Association reports that of all the young children who died in home fires last year, fully one third set the fires that killed them. Children under the age of 12 set almost half of all structural fires. According to the Shriners Burn Institute, burn injuries are a major cause of death for preschoolers, and match play is a leading source of burn injuries. Remember all fires start small The curious fire setter is typically a 3 to 7 year old boy who is hyperactive and impulsive. He often opposes authority, is curious about fire, and is very determined to learn about it. The fires he starts are usually started with matches or lighters, with ordinary and available materials to burn to like paper, cloth, carpeting, and toys. The fires are often started in hidden locations such as closets or under beds, and vary in terms of number, sequence or pattern. This type of fire setting, even though it has the simplest motivation and is the easiest to treat, has the highest death rate and the largest dollar loss of all fire related behaviors. The fire can go undetected for long enough to become serious. The fire setting behavior often continues despite punishment.
You can prevent most fire setting by following these three steps:
Teach your child about fire. Fire is a tool we use to heat our homes or cook our food. Fire is not a toy. Because it makes heat it is very dangerous. Only adults can safely use fire. All fires, even small ones, can spread quickly. Even adults must follow special safety rules for fire.
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 stove or candle fires unattended. Teach children to bring found matches and lighters to you or another grown-up.
Set a good example. Install and maintain smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Plan and practice home fire escape drills and regularly inspect your home for fire hazards. Always use safety sense when making or using fire. Point out the safety rules you and others are following throughout the course of the day.
There are some signs that your child may be curious about fire. This curiosity is normal and healthy, and the wise parent should direct this curiosity to a safe outcome. If you discover evidence of match play, such as spent matches, or burnt paper or cloth, or you smell smoke in a play area, notice your child staring at the gas stove flame or a lit candle, or you see him reaching for the gas stove controls or matches and lighters, If your child asks or tries to light cigarettes for you or for the adults in your home or your child rushes to the window or TV whenever he hears the sound of sirens and fire trucks; it is important not to frighten or scare your child. Don't punish him 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 safety. Follow the above three steps. Create opportunities for your child to learn about fire safety, e.g. when you cook, let him get the pot holders for you; whenever you use the fireplace or woodstove, let him bring you the wood or tools; or if you light candles, let him check to make sure the candle holder fits snugly.
What if it isn't play?
If your child has already discovered matches and fire through play and he does not respond to your efforts to redirect his curiosity to fire safety, he may require a different approach to stop his behaviour. If you discover evidence of additional fires, or the fires change somehow (become more serious or deliberate), or you sense that your child is not just curious about how fire works, it might be time for outside help. A multi-session fire education program, geared to your child's level of interest and understanding, taught by a professional, could prove very effective.
Where to go for help
Pembroke Fire Department has a specialized program (The Arson Prevention Program for Children - TAPP-C) available through the local school or Fire Department for children who play with or start fires. There are people close by who can help. For additional information or help contact Pembroke Fire Department 735-6821 Ext. 1201.
Every year, hundreds of children die in home fires started by children who were using or playing with matches or lighters.