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Task force taking measures to curb juvenile fire setting

Published August 17. 2010 05:00PM

In the United States, juvenile fire setting is becoming a problem.

That's why a new county task force is taking proactive measures to stop this growing problem from blazing out of control.

During a recent meeting of the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative, Joseph Greco, community based probation officer for the Carbon County Juvenile Court and the assistant fire chief at Lansford Fire Company, made a presentation on juvenile fire setting.

Greco explained the task force has been trying to begin a program to help children who set fires and their families. The program is aimed at educating the child about the importance of fire safety; as well as intervening if the child is already playing with fire.

"Juvenile fire setting is destructive and is a problem throughout the nation as a whole," he said. "The mission of the program is to address the problem of child fire setting behavior and to reduce the risk of fire related loss of life, personal injury and property destruction."

The goals include educating the child about fire safety, fire science, and fire prevention; and working with mental health counseling to help alleviate a potential problem.

Greco noted that the task force is made up of various county agencies, including fire departments, mental health agencies, juvenile probation, and other groups that work with children.

"It's a collaborative effort within the agencies in the juvenile system," he said.

Greco then outlined the types of fire setters.

They include: curiosity/experimental; troubled/crisis; delinquent/criminal; and pathological/emotionally disturbed.

According to a pamphlet on the program, curiosity/experimental fire setters are usually children age 2-10 who lack the ability of completely understanding that fire setting is a hazard. Troubled/crisis fire setters usually are mostly boys of all ages that have set two or more fires and use fires as a way to express their emotions of anger, frustration or sadness. They may also not fully understand the consequences of setting fires.

Delinquent/criminal fire setters are usually teens that have a history of acting out. When they set fires, they are intending to destroy something. They also typically target something specific.

Pathological/emotionally disturbed fire setters are a danger to themselves in that they usually have a psychiatric diagnosis. The individuals, which can be any age or gender, typically set multiple fires randomly or ritually with the intent to destroy. They also have a chronic history of behavioral and emotional problems.

Greco said if someone witnesses a child who is showing fire setter behaviors, they can refer them to the task force. Contact numbers include the Carbon County Juvenile Probation office at (570) 325-2417 or the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry at (570) 325-6111. All information is kept confidential.

Once the force receives a referral, the family is contacted to see if a screening interview can be scheduled. If the screening is scheduled, the juvenile is assessed by a trained professional and a specialized program for the child and their family is created. Each program is designed for the child based on the initial assessment. It could mean counseling, educational programs and more.

After the child goes through the program, a follow-up assessment is completed to see if more treatment is needed.

"This is beneficial for the families," Greco said. "The family goes through the program with their child to help them along the way."

He ended the program by urging the group to watch for signs of juvenile fire setting when they are working with the children.

The juvenile fire setting program is made possible by DCNR's Bureau of Forestry; the Carbon County Juvenile Probation Office; Carbon County Emergency Management Agency; Carbon County MH/MR; Behavioral Health Associates; Renaissance Psychological Corp.; Paul Reichenbach of the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy; Jessica Banks, prevention education director for the Burn Prevention Foundation; the Nesquehoning Fire Company No. 1; Diligence Fire Company No. 1 in Summit Hill; and American Fire Company No. 1 in Lansford.

For more information on the juvenile fire setting program or to refer a child exhibiting fire setting behavior, contact Greco at (570) 325-2417, ext. 3605; or Wesley Keller from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry at (570) 325-6111.

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