Preventing Church Fires

Dennis L. Rubin outlines important steps to follow to prevent churches from being targets of arson.


The church fire problem in the southeastern United States is receiving long-overdue national attention. Statistical data collected by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicates that church fires are on the increase. Most distressing is the increase in the arson or suspicious...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The church fire problem in the southeastern United States is receiving long-overdue national attention. Statistical data collected by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicates that church fires are on the increase. Most distressing is the increase in the arson or suspicious category of fire causes at church occupancy classifications.

Knowing that a church fire devastates a community, fire-rescue agencies must take every step possible to prevent these senseless tragedies from happening. It is up to the fire chief to build a strong alliance with the local police agency and the state fire marshal’s office to educate their church leadership in modern prevention techniques and strategies. This article will examine the actions that can be taken to aggressively fight this heinous crime.

To get started, let’s quickly review the basic motives associated with arson fires. To best defeat an enemy, one should try to understand how the enemy thinks and operates. Motives will tell a lot about these characters. The six principle reasons why fires are deliberately set by people are:

The profit motive is one of the simplest to understand. The arsonists will directly or indirectly gain from the acts they commit. As an example, the arsonist might be paid to burn down a building so that another may collect insurance or to control a loss from a failing business.

Next, fires may be set to cover a crime, such as a murder. The arsonist believes that a set fire will destroy the evidence of the crime. Generally speaking, the criminal evidence is not destroyed by the results of fire.

Revenge is the process of “getting even” with someone. Typically, revenge is directed in some sort of domestic setting. The arsonist almost always knows the person or persons that they are attacking with fire. The classification of protest may be the motive behind some of the church fires of present day. Subversive groups that use fire as a tool of terror fall under this category as well.

Vandalism, malicious destruction and excitement is the next set of reasons that fires are deliberately lit. Included in this segment of motives are the people who are infatuated or very curious about fire. If these arsonists are not caught and behavior changed early on, they are likely to set many fires that increase in size.

Finally, the group that is mentally afflicted makes up the last broad class of fire setters. They set fires not completely understanding their potential devastation.

Knowing that this is an emerging issue and having a basic understanding of an arsonist’s motives is not enough. The fire-rescue service must lead the changes that are necessary to eliminate this problem. We must develop and implement an action plan that works.

The first step is to understand that the burning of churches is everyone’s problem. The fire and police agencies must hold ongoing meetings with their local church officials. These frank meetings must identify the problems that confront churches and the solutions to these issues.

The news media have emphasized the burning of black churches. This national exposure and awareness is good but the problem is not limited to black houses of worship. According to Alabama State Fire Marshal John Robertson, that state has suffered 38 church fires in the last six years. Of the churches that have burned in that Deep South state, 20 have been in predominately white churches, while 18 fires occurred in black community churches.

This nearly equal breakdown by specific race is no surprise when you consider that all rural churches represent “soft targets.” That means they are vulnerable to burglary, vandalism and arson. Therein lies the second step in the action plan. A highly vulnerable property needs to become a “harder target” to hit. The church community needs to be part of a neighborhood watch program. The police department should have a vast amount of information on getting started with a watch system. Discuss the need for technological support equipment to deter crime. Properly installed lighting that uses motion detection to save on electricity is cheap and effective. Light, noise and people are the biggest deterrents to this cowardly form of crime.

This content continues onto the next page...