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Arson Awareness Week: Arson for Profit in the U.S.

The Insurance Information Institute reported that arson for profit fires destroyed nearly $900 million in property loss and killed 295 in 2007.

Arson Awareness Week is May 3 - 9 and this year's theme is "Arson for Profit." Please check the links below for more from the U.S. Fire Administration.

The 2009 theme for arson awareness week, May 3-9, is "Arson for Profit." This motive of arson is when someone intentionally sets a fire for their financial gain. Whether someone invested in a company that failed to pay out the projected amount of dividends, a business going sour, or a vehicle owner who can not continue to make payments on his loan, setting a fire to collect insurance for whatever reason is a crime.

Any way you look at it there is no benefit for public safety officials or the community when it comes to arson. We are subjected to added risk and expenses. Intentionally set fires are often hotter and spread more rapidly, primarily because the arsonist want to make sure the fire grows and often use ignitable liquids to fuel the fire. According to the Insurance Information Institute, arson for profit fires destroyed nearly $900 million in property loss and killed 295 civilians in 2007. $900 million is very close to one billion.

In order to give you an idea of what one billion is I have added some facts:

  • One billion is a thousand million.
  • If you were to count nonstop to one billion, it would take you 31.7 years.
  • One billion seconds ago it was 1977.
  • One billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was in full swing.
  • One billion hours ago we were in the stone age.

This number is staggering! The loss of these dollars from the insurance companies causes an increase in insurance premiums for all of us. The overall costs of arson in general are much higher than a dollar sign can depict and there is no price for the loss of life. As with any fire that you have, a complete investigation into the cause of the fire should be sought. If you do not have trained staff, call the state fire marshals office and/or your local investigation team. These people will determine if the fire is a crime. If it is, they will seek the assistance of the local law enforcement.

Listed below are things you can do to greatly increase the success of the fire investigation in these cases while you are on the scene.

  1. Protect the scene from excessive and destructive overhaul. Leave items as they are.
  2. Gather all witness and owner information on site.
  3. Ask the 5 W's.

    Who is involved and was on site prior, during, and after the fire. Who owns the property and/or business? Get a name, date of birth, and a phone number where they can be reached. Who noticed the fire?

    What occurred when these people were there? What did the fire department see and do? What was on fire?

    Why was there a fire? Do they have any ideas as to what happened?

    Where did these people see the initial smoke and/or flames? Where did the fire department make their initial attack? Where is the owner?

    When was the last person in the area? When was the last time the owner has had an insurance claim? For what? When was the last time someone was with the property?

Preserving the scene and asking these simple questions will give the fire investigator a good foundation to build off of.

Arson is a crime against people! This month discuss with your people what they can do to better assist in the investigation process. Have a class on fire investigation and limit salvage and overhaul until photographs can be taken. Educate the public and let them know that arson has many motives and is a concern of yours. This effort really does start at the top. All motives of arson are a threat against your firefighter's wellbeing.

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JERRY STREICH is a 21-year veteran of fire service and serves as the fire chief of the Centennial Fire District in Minnesota. Jerry is a certified fire investigator and has a degree in fire science as well as diverse training from the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal of Apprehension, and the National Fire Academy. He has successfully created one of the most successful fire investigation teams in Minnesota which currently has a 98 percent conviction rate. You can reach Jerry by e-mail at