Pennsylvania State Fire Marshal David Klitsch, Pennsylvania Association of Arson Investigators(PAAI), Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal's office, Hazleton, spent time talking to Carbon and Schuylkill county fire departments recently at both the Summit Hill and West Penn fire companies concerning the touchy subject of firefighter arson.
The talk, which wasn't directed at either department, revolved around the Hero to Zero firefighter arson awareness program, which was created to minimize the problem of firefighter arson, its effects and whatever can be done to fix the problem.
The program, written by trooper Klitsch, afforded firefighters training on an array of topics that address not only the act of arson, but how to curtail it. Klitsch developed this three hour program to offer narrative on an array of subjects such as motive, cause/effect, profiling, legal statutes and prevention.
Although firefighter arson is not an epidemic within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is now a more recognized crime than in yesteryear. The PAAI acknowledges firefighter arson as an unpleasant experience for those fire departments forced to deal with the ramifications of an arsonist's actions. The program was started with the intent of decreasing the frequency, as well as offering awareness.
Klitsch pointed out that of the over 1,148,800 firefighters in over 30,100 fire departments, only 14 percent are career, while the remaining 86 percent are volunteer.
During the video portion of the program, Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias pointed out that firefighters are held to a higher standard - to save lives - and will receive no special treatment if involved in arson. Klitsch mentioned that exact firefighter arson statistics are skewed since the reporting of firefighter arson are basically non-existent, although a new ATF system called the Bomb Arson Tracking System will help capture and track firefighter arson data.
When asked about the reported increase in PA firefighter arsons, Klitsch stated, "It's just apparent", blaming the increase on good effect of the program. Klitsch continued by pointing out that this new program is placing more awareness and education in firefighters, who then report more of those normally-inside incidents to authorities.