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    Default WV firefighters setting fires for "initiation"!

    Just read the headlines at Firehouse.com and was saddened to learn that we have a total of six (6) firefighters, including a former chief and a current assistant chief being charged with arson and accessories after the fact. It seems that fires were being set for new firefighters, but being turned in as alarms.
    How many more will have to die? How many more black eyes can our fire service take? When will departments wake up and start monitoring their people? Applications with background checks and even psychological profiles could stop alot of this. I mean, if you have a total of 20 fires a year on the average and all of a sudden, you have 10 in a two month span, you'd think that maybe something isn't right. It's something that you cannot ignore.
    It's time to take a look around you. Where's there's smoke; there's fire!

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    Angry

    I wish the headline on the main page would have read the actual name of the article, "Glasgow Firefighters Indicted," rather than saying, "WV Firefighters Indicted in 'Initiation' Arsons." It kinda makes all West Virginia firefighters look bad.

    You're right though, Chief Reason... It's sad that things like this are still happening, and it makes me angry that these people have such a disregard for their department's reputation. Jeez, a disregard for the reputation of the ENTIRE fire service.

    So, guys, please don't hold being a West Virginian against me.

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    Default Re: WV firefighters setting fires for "initiation"!

    Originally posted by Chief Reason
    When will departments wake up and start monitoring their people? Applications with background checks and even psychological profiles could stop alot of this.
    I cannot believe this thread is dying off!!

    Aren't we the ones who attack writers, comedians and lawyers that are less than a credit to their profession...we even trounced good old Al from Lairdsville...yet this one goes virtually unnoticed??? THIS PROBLEM IS HUGE PEOPLE!!!! You see it all the time!!! Yet no outcry or rage from we, the fire service. Now I know there's a thread on the subject in off-duty discussions...but I'm still in shock that this was going to go to the back pages here. Are we going to just sluff this off as to be "expected" in the fire service???? Or are we going to start to see articles, posts and commentary addressing how we can prevent this from happening?? Good Lord we bark at the general public about using smoke detectors (rightfully so) but when one of our own burns their friggin' property to the ground..we just roll with the punches?? Am I ******ed off??? YOU BET!!! I am not seeing any "Applicant Screening" or "Dealing with Arsonists in the Fire Service" trainings being offered at fire school. It's time to step up and recognize WE have a problem....and aggressively makes efforts to eliminate it.

    Sorry folks...but this topic stands on my every nerve and grinds it into the dirt.
    May we never forget our fallen, worldwide.

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    I have posted on this issue so many times even I am sick of reading it.

    I proposed several months ago for people to start sending letters to the NVFC, IAFC and the USFA to find out what was being done to attack the problem of volunteer fire fighters setting fires (Yeah, I know. Paid guys set fire too. For the most part, 99% of these fires are set by vollies).

    I never received a reply from anyone. The conclusion I draw, is as an industry, we do not care if our members set fires. There is no other way to explain it. In fact, the deafening silence condones the activity.

    I will once again try to stir up some interest. I can only do my part locally. As I have said so many times, my agency has arrested 38 volunteer fire fighters since I joined the squad in 1987. We do not put these idiots in any pre-trial diversion programs. We have a very low tolerance and thankfully, our judges do too.

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    I think most call hungry volunteers do this sort of thing on their own. The entire department seems to possibly be involved in this incident, though. In my area, there is a DEFINITE need for control and accountability in the volunteer departments. For the most part, they are loose cannons who do as they please, when they please. There are no requirments from the county concerning physical fitness or training at all. The departments in this county answer to nobody. Sure, they claim they are only volunteers, but every one of them accept thousands of taxpayer dollars each year. And the taxpayers expect professional results when firefighters respond to a call. I think that lack of oversight by authorities leads to this type of behavior (firesetting) because no background checks are required. They usually vote in ol' Billy Bob because he's a good ol' boy. They don't set higher standards for themselves because they don't want to have to live up to them constantly. And the county turns a blind eye because they are getting fire protection cheaply. But, you get what you pay for.
    Last edited by ThNozzleman; 08-12-2002 at 11:28 AM.

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    Default I'm with you George!

    George:
    I have read many of your posts on firefighters as firesetters. Like you, we deal with the problem on a local level. I have conveyed my concern to our state fire marshal and the director of our fire service institute. I find it strange that we focus on juvenile firesetters, knowing full well that some of our own are setting them and yet, there seems to be a concerted effort to keep it quiet and to dismiss it as "isolated cases".
    There isn't an incident that will cause more harm to a department's image and damage the public's trust than a firefighter setting fires. The public feels betrayed, because you have someone with public trust setting fires, when you thought that it was their job to extinguish them. Your community support immediately goes to zero!
    The hard work that you have done to raise the level of community support means nothing at that point. And why? Because it was easier to ignore the problem or to admit that a problem doesn't exist. If you investigate every fire to the exact cause and origin, the problem would surface quickly; then quick action could be taken against those responsible and if it is a firefighter caught setting fires, then you must prosecute them to the fullest extent allowed under the law. You cannot simply pull them in for a stern lecture and think that the issue has been resolved. That gives the appearance of cover up or of being above the law.
    As I said in a previous post; you'd better all take a look at your selection process and periodically take a look at the man next to you, because once it starts, the damage is already done. The only way that you can fix it is to let the courts do their thing and hopefully, it will be a stiff penalty that includes serious jail time, during which intensive counselling can be conducted.
    When a five year old sets a fire, it is tragic. When an adult or worse, a firefighter sets a fire, it's tragic, but it's also a criminal act.
    If you're not doing anything about it, then you're condoning it. And if you're condoning it, then you're an accessory after the fact.

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    Chief; two thoughts...

    1. You would not be surprised to find that there is a very high rate of juvenile fire setting in a fire fighter arsonist.

    2. This problem generally is progressive. It is not unusual for a fire fighter arsonist to start with telephone false alarms, then move on to brush and dumpster fires before he graduates to structures. If the people in the FD paid attention when these little weird things started to happen, we also might avoid the big ones.

    Has your state agencies had any response to your inquiry?

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    As we have gone up, down, left, and right in the other threads about pushing the government to mandate training levels and such, I have said and still believe that we can't and should not expect the government to do this for us. We need to "police" ourselves and believe in it. Just like we need to make ourselves want and push for training, we need to research our members. We need to pay attention to what is going on around our firehouses. We have to stop waiting for someone else to do it for us, it has to start with us. We know our people better than any government agency as we deal with them day in and day out. Wake up, look around, see what is happening. Bring that information to your officers and if needed, you PD. Don't go on a witch hunt, just be observant. Who lives too far away to make the first truck, but always seems to be there when "nuisance" fires happen? Who seems to know exact locations when dispatch gives you an area? Watch your members, get to know them. Don't spy on them. Talk openly about what is going on.

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    As we have gone up, down, left, and right in the other threads about pushing the government to mandate training levels and such, I have said and still believe that we can't and should not expect the government to do this for us. We need to "police" ourselves and believe in it.
    OK. How?

    We are not talking about training standards. We are talking about violations of criminal law. The government is in the business of enforcing criminal law. It is our responsibility as citizens to assist and cooperate in the effort to enforce those laws.

    The major fire service organizations have a responsibility to formulate a game plan to ensure that this assistance and cooperation takes place. As I have said a million times before, I have arrested dozens of fire fighters for arson. And that is in a county with 450,000 people and 39 municipalities. Do you think that there is something unique about Morris County, NJ that we have that high a rate? Of course not. However, we have an aggressive approach to investigate these cases, we are very good at recognizing the signs and we have a no-nonsense prosecution policy.

    However, I would be just as happy to never arrest another FF again. The problem has to be addressed BEFORE the fire starts. That is by admitting there is an epidemic problem and developing procedures to keep these people out. Period.

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    Default Some helpfull suggestions

    George,
    I agree with you and did more than just write the national organizations. I propose that there is a larger problem here and that is a lack of ethics at the highest levels. We not only need to address fire fighter arsonists but also ethics, and this last incident just proves that. I conducted an instructional program at a recent ISFSI event in West Virginia regarding fire service ethics, and very few attended; less than six.

    In this particular incident with this particular department it appears to have been part of their culture. The officers of this particular department knew what was going on and condoned it.

    And we can all hear the volunteer fire departments screaming that they can't afford all these psychological exams and polygraphs, but let me simply ask, can you afford not to?

    Maybe you really can't afford it, (yes I truely believe that many can). There are steps you can take to find out if someone should be excluded. Simply ask for three personal refrences on the application and then call each one. Then ask each reference if they also know three others who also know the applicant. Then call them. You will get a much clearer picture of this person when you talk to the second tier of folks than the first. Continue this until you feel that you have a good picture of the individual and then bring them in for an interview. If there are any inconsistencies, try to clear them up. If you still have some problems, then recommend to the body that they shouldn't be accepted. No one ever said that you had to take everyone that walks through the door.
    Last edited by glowpop; 08-12-2002 at 10:49 AM.

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    There are steps you can take to find out if someone should be excluded. Simply ask for three personal refrences on the application and then call each one. Then ask each reference if they also know three others who also know the applicant. Then call them. You will get a much clearer picture of this person when you talk to the second tier of folks than the first. Continue this until you feel that you have a good picture of the individual and then bring them in for an interview. If there are any inconsistencies, try to clear them up. If you still have some problems, then recommend to the body that they shouldn't be accepted. No one ever said that you had to take everyone that walks through the door.
    My point exactly. The FD needs to do this. We (the FD) need to do some work and care about who we bring in.

    George - how? We discussed this in another thread, background checks, psych checks, references, etc. Do all departments do this? Nope. Should they? Yup. Again, complaints of who pays for it? Well, I will sacrifice some of our budget to pay for it. It's worth the cost. I believe more needs to be done before these people become members to check them out. I also believe we need to monitor existing members, again, not spying on them, just being observant of what happens around your firehouse. Having the government make laws will help when someone violates them and gets caught, but let's look at the WV situation. Laws already exist regarding arson, and they knew these laws, did it stop them? Yes, now they will be punished and they should be. We, ourselves, need to "grow up" and look at what we are doing. These guys should have known better and their department should have done something about it long before it got to this point.

    I am not disagreeing with you, I just think FD's need to do more themselves and not wait for others to force them into it.

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    Certainly, individual departments can go a long way in implementing procedures that will cut down on the appointment of problem members. But I still think that local authorities should still have more direct control over volunteer departments. Most "thrill seekers" I have known about would never have made it into a firefighter position if the standards were pushed to a more professional level. A lot of these people have a history of this type of behavior, either at other departments or as a juvenile. Thanks to background checks, we recently purged an applicant due to his being wanted for felony assault charges in another state. I think counties and districts should set standards and make local volunteers meet them. If you take taxpayer dollars in ANY form, then you owe the taxpayers professional service. It doesn't take a dime to conduct yourself as a professional. Sure, I agree that you should throw the book at firestarters, especially those in the fire service that commit these crimes. But, so many of them would be weeded out if fire departments would raise their standards and quit letting any Joe that walks through the door be a firefighter. Quite a few of our local departments vote "members" in, hand them their turn-out, a hat, a t-shirt, and advise them what kind of red dashlight to use, all in one night. I think it's time for the good ol' boy's club attitude to GO. I'm not trying to tick off any volunteers....just stating what I see as part of the problem.
    Last edited by ThNozzleman; 08-12-2002 at 11:25 AM.

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    Default Could it be because....

    George:
    Another thought that popped into my head about a lack of discussion on this topic is because many departments could be afraid of what they would find if they took a good look around. Their suspicions might actually come true and then they would have to deal with it. It would force action on their parts.
    Anyway; after attempts to stir interest at our state fire marshal's office without success, it occurred to me that I was taking it from the wrong angle. So I decided to go where the stuff is taught; our state's fire service institute. Attached is the emails that were exchanged with the director of academic affairs.

    Art,
    Thanks for the suggestion.
    Over the years I am aware of a relatively few cases in Illinois, but I don't think there are very many out of the 40,000 or so firefighters we have in the state at any one time.
    However, the negative publicity from even one bad apple hurts the fire service image, so you make a good point that all fire departments, and IFSI, should try to discourage such activity. As you well know, we are trying hard to improve the public's perception of the fire service. Anything negative hurts.
    I'll think about how best to get this message across. In my next quarterly update to our field instructors, I'll suggest to them that they mention this in classes where appropriate, such as Essentials and CFF-II.
    Again, thanks for the idea.
    Dave

    At 01:29 PM 8/13/2002 -0500, you wrote:
    >Dave:
    >As you know, more and more firefighters are being convicted of setting fires. Just recently, two firefighters in W. Virginia were setting them for new firefighter "initiation". It is especially on the rise in the volunteer ranks.
    What I was wondering was: would you consider incorporating discussion on the criminal penalties for setting fires, as well as the other negative factors to the fire department, community,
    >etc. Delaware has, as a requirement for their Firefighter I course, a section on criminal penalties for firefighters setting fires and it has the lowest number of arsons in the nation.
    >Could we perhaps develop such a program for our FF II and even the
    >essentials classes? I think that it would go a long ways towards
    >reducing the chances of firefighter-set fires in Illinois.
    >Please consider it and let me know your thoughts.
    >Thank you.
    >Art Goodrich, Chief-Clover Twp.

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