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FirePlay - A Deadly Game

Fireplay is a deadly game that should not be dismissed as a "phase" or simple "curiosity." Records show that children set approximately 50% of the nearly 600,000 residential fires in the U.S.. Children must be properly supervised and educated about fire's destructive power.Fire departments nationwide are implementing special programs to identify and stop juvenile firesetting. Early detection and treatment are essential to prevent normal childhood curiosity from turning into disaster.Juvenile firesetting can be prevented when parents, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement authorities and all caregivers become aware of firesetting. 


Profile of a Firesetter


Curious Firesetters

Many young children are fascinated by matches and lighters but don't know about fire's destructive consequences. Children set fires because of poor judgment. Young children love to imitate adults who light cigarettes, candles, or fireplaces. Unfortunately, many lack parental supervision or education about fire safety.


Troubled Firesetters

Mental or emotional disturbance can cause firesetting behavior. Ages of troubled firesetters can range from preschool through teenagers. These children often set fires as a way to act out anger, frustration, and feelings of being powerless.


Delinquent Firesetters

These are youths usually in their teens with a history of starting fires. They set fires as acts of vandalism or for creating excitement and destroying property. Usually strongly influenced by their peers, they use fire to cause malicious mischief or rebel against authority. Abandoned buildings, open fields, and schools are common targets. Most of these firesetters have a history of antisocial behavior, lying, stealing, truancy, and drugs.


Severely Disturbed Firesetters

These youth often have a long history of behavioral problems. Their symptoms usually fall into two major personality types labeled as "Impulsive Neurotic" and "Borderline Psychotic." Many of these firesetters are in state mental or correctional institutions.




The Federal Emergency Management Agency of the U.S. Fire Administration recommends:

  • Always keep matches and lighters out of reach of small children.
  • Be emphatic: Tell the child "No! You are not to play with matches and lighters! They can burn and hurt you!"
  • Always supervise a young child in a room where an open flame is present (fireplaces, candles, heaters, etc.).
  • Teach young children that matches and lighters are tools, not toys. With adult supervision, demonstrate how you cautiously use these tools.
  • Closely supervise and teach a child how to safely strike a match or light a candle.
  • Never leave young children unattended, even for short periods.
  • Hire only experienced, trained babysitters.
  • Teach children about fire when they first show interest.
  • Discuss the proper use of fire and how destructive fire is if not used safely.
  • Contact your local fire department about fire safety education programs and material for children.



Firefighters who interview juvenile firesetters and their parents are trained to evaluate the child's firesetting behavior. If the fire is set because of simple curiosity or poor judgment, a recommendation may be made for enrolling the child in an intensive fire safety education program. These programs are highly successful in preventing firesetting because of curiosity.


In case of a troubled or disturbed child, parents are referred to mental health services where the child can receive special help. If parents resist or refuse, legal action may be necessary. In some cases the Firesetter has to be referred to the child protective services or juvenile police section. Adolescent firesetters are evaluated to determine if their fires are set because of criminal intention. Some may have serious mental disorders needing psychiatric attention.


For more information contact our Public Education Unit: 817-392-6862