1. #1
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    Angry Former Jr. Firefighters-Arson Death

    Perhaps our colleague StayBack can shed more light on this story?

    (Pittsburgh-AP) -- The second of two former junior firefighters
    charged in the arson death of an 85-year-old woman fought back
    tears as he apologized and pleaded guilty to setting the fire.
    Seventeen-year-old James Moore the Third pleaded guilty to
    second-degree murder in juvenile court yesterday for setting the
    February 2001 fire that killed Anna Lazabeck. Sixteen-year-old Chad
    Pruchnitzky -- who was also a junior firefighters in North Braddock
    -- was found guilty in juvenile court last week.
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    Default

    See? No one replied in response to this post about volunteer fire fighters setting fires. As an industry, we don't care.

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    George,

    I have to disagree with you on this one. I think we do care....or at least I do. I had not even heard about this incident (or at least not realized it was junior firefighters). This is proof that closer scrutiny in the terms of background checks and even phsycological testing is important to the fire service. These two alone will not fix the problem, but will certainly point us in the right direction. I don't know the answers here...but I am also concerned about the frequency of occurrance in this area. Not only is it stupid....but it is embarassing to me. We don't need to label it career or volunteer...the public does not differentiate when they read these articles.

    And with more and more "juniors" being involved in this sort of thing it is a clear indicator that we need to make sure these folks get the proper guidance, education and mentoring. That is a start.
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    I have to disagree with you on this one. I think we do care....or at least I do.
    OK. Prove me wrong. Illustrate for me one proactive thing the fire service has done to stop fire fighter arson.

    I'll give you two efforts as an example. One succesful. One a flop.

    In Delaware, there is a block of instruction written into FF1 which tells the guys straight up what will happen to them if they are caught setting fires. As usual, the tiny state of Delaware is light years ahead of tyhe other 49 states in terms of the fire service. This effort has been succesful in reducing the number of fires set by fire fighters.

    The IAFC tried about five years ago to get a program off the ground. They produced a video and tried to promote it. Dead in the water due to lack of interest.

    Unless someone can prove me wrong, I'll continue to maintain that we do not care, as an industry, if our fire fighters et fires.

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    George:
    This is going to sound silly, but, one would think that the last person you would need to explain the consequences for setting fires to would be firefighters. I think it's great that Delaware puts it into their curriculum and I will email the director of our fire service institute as soon as I'm done here. But...
    I don't think that just the criminal penalties should be addressed. I also believe that the other "social" consequences of such acts should be discussed as well. When fire departments realize that their problems are just starting with the conviction of their firesetting "brother", then I think more attention will be given to stopping the problem before it starts.
    It appears that firefighters who set fires aren't concerned with either the criminal penalties or the heat it brings their department. I get the feeling that they think that they won't get caught, because "who would ever suspect a firefighter"? And don't forget the ones who think that they are smarter than the CFI.
    I'm not ignoring the problem. Our department discusses it often; as in each time another one is charged. They know the consequences if they are foolish enough to try it. I don't think we fit your "blanket indictment". And for what it's worth; we have not had the problem. We screen new applicants; we train often and we try to keep busy so that "thrill fires" don't start popping up.
    Keep putting them in jail. In the meantime, we have to wake up as a fire service to a very real problem and fix it.
    Thank you for your hard work and dedication. The rest of us need to raise our bar a little.

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    George,

    While I tend to agree with you, I think its more of a "can't happen here" attitude, than a "so what" kind of thing. The Delaware program sounds interesting, especially if it is seeing results.

    Unfortunately there are still too many departments that a hiring (for lack of a better term) members and encouraging them to be active, gung ho, and committed to the department. While all these things are important, they can also lead to one of our own settings fires.

    We have had two cases in my area where FFs were either believed to, or proven to have set fires. In one case the FF was caught after one house fire across the street from where he lived.(this was after he was 1st due to several brush fires). And in the other, once the investigative "heat" became too much, the fires stopped. Several firefighters were interviewed, but no one was ever charged. There was a complete lack of support frm the Fire Chief in actually persuing the evidence against his members, and when his members were questioned, he washed his hands of them and "let them swing". Kinda like Salem, MA all over again, except these guys were not witches. Many goo dpeople were dragged thru the mud.

    I ask you this question George. What is the answer? How do we make us care?

    Dave

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    George,
    I think we care. I for one am ashamed at every instance I hear of firefighter arson or other misconduct by a firefighter. A nearby career dept. just had 2 station officers indicted for stealing from the house funds.

    I'm looking for what I can do as a ff/medic and an instructor to cut down on this. I'm not currently an officer, so I'm not involved in any hiring decisions. Can you tell me about Delaware's corriculum or where I can find out more about it? I'll include it in my next class.

    You're certainly right about the lack of screening for potential ff arsonists. I've been through the hiring process for 6 departments: 4 volunteer & 2 part-time. The only questioning I even experienced about being an arsonist was in the polygraph for one of the part-time positions. That was interesting, because the examiner had to re-word the questions for me since I've set numerous structures on fire for training purposes. BTW, the polygraph was also interesting because it asked a number of inappropriate questions such as number & age of children, marital status, etc.

    What sort of screening do you believe is practical & effective, esp. for depts that can't do polygraphs?
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    Gentlemen;

    I appreciate your personal indignation about the volunteer fire fighter arson problem, but it just underscores my point. I was making the challenge from a fire service culture perspective. There is no unified front by any of the major fire service organizations to do squat about this. If we ignore it, it will go away.

    Let me address a few specifics.

    When fire departments realize that their problems are just starting with the conviction of their firesetting "brother", then I think more attention will be given to stopping the problem before it starts.
    This is half of the problem. In a large number of cases, the fire departments don;t really want the fires to stop. They enjoy being busy and they enjoy the attention they get from being busy. You may be outraged at this statement, but I have experienced it and it is a very real part of the problem.

    While I tend to agree with you, I think its more of a "can't happen here" attitude, than a "so what" kind of thing.
    Fire fighter arson can happen in any ( yes any) volunteer department in the country. If you think it can't, your head is in the sand.

    I ask you this question George. What is the answer? How do we make us care?
    I'm looking for what I can do as a ff/medic and an instructor to cut down on this.
    You won't care unless and until the major fire service organizations decide to put this issue on the table and meet it head-on. You could make a pest out of yourself by writing and emailing the major fire service organizations and ask them what they are doing about it.

    I will challenge any fire service leader from any of the Big 7 to post their thoughts on this issue herre. They won't, but at least the challenge was made.


    BTW, the polygraph was also interesting because it asked a number of inappropriate questions such as number & age of children, marital status, etc.
    It's not a job interview, it is a security screening tool. There are no inappropriate questions. If you don;t want to answer them, the assumption can be made that you are hiding something.

    What sort of screening do you believe is practical & effective, esp. for depts that can't do polygraphs?
    Quite simply put, the only screening tool that will attack this problem is a complete psychological examination. An arsonist can be free of any criminal convictions, never get a tciket and be a great guy to his neighbors and his boss. But if you look at the work of TIm Huff in this area, there is a very definite profile (I am not getting into this stuopid argument again so don't even waste your time trying). A psych exam will weed these people out. Polygraphs are good. I like them and use them for criminal purposes. However, they are not legal in many areas for pre-employment screening.

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    Unhappy Ethics in the Fire Service

    I agree with George that there is far too many organizations, local and national that don't care about the fact that there are fire fighters who are actually fire lighters. This is not new. I remember reading an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer weekend section written by Dr. McNally from St Joseph's Public Safety Institute that stated that there are three pressing problems facing the volunteer fire service in this country, lack of time, lack of funding and that there are too many fire lighters instead of fire fighters. I read this in 1983. What has changed in our area since. Nothing. We still have fire fighter arsonists and we haven't done anything about it except talk. While the State Police have discussed producing and presenting a similar program as Delaware's, I have yet to see any program listings or actual programs.

    However, I see it as part of a much larger problem. This country as a whole doesn't have a very good handle on what is or is not ethical behavior. I recently conducted a session for the ISFSI at a confrence in West Virginia on fire service ethics. There was less than a half dozen participants that attended my session.

    Short ethics test. You are a fire inspector and enter a convience store to buy a cup of coffee. As you check out, the person at the counter states that the coffee is free. Do you take it?

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    Short ethics test. You are a fire inspector and enter a convience store to buy a cup of coffee. As you check out, the person at the counter states that the coffee is free. Do you take it?
    Two schools of thought...

    1. A very wise and learned mentor of mine advised me to live my life as though everything I was going to do was going to be printed on the front page of the New York Times. You don't take the coffee because you want to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

    2. There are many "codes of ethics" out there. I don't know of any that requires you refuse hospitality or refuse items of nominal value.

    I would probably accept the coffee (no food), and sit there and drink it with the proprietor and make sure that most of our conversation was regarding the inspection and fire safety in general. You can very often turn a spur of the moment event into a positive learning/public relations opportunity.

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    the work of TIm Huff in this area, there is a very definite profile (I am not getting into this stuopid argument again so don't even waste your time trying). A psych exam will weed these people out.
    Is this information that any psych could get access to? If I wanted to start sending applicants for a psych exam, would the psych be able to base their judgements on this information? To me, this sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. We are a volunteer department, and unfortunately, I have had to deal with past firefighters involved with setting fires.

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    Tim is a retired Criminal Analyst with the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. His work is a study of many fire fighter arsonists. Like any work, if you looked for it hard enough, you could get access to it. However, I do not think there would be any benefit. It would be hard to tailor your past life to influence the exam.

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    Sorry, bad wording on my side. Looking for information to provide to the doctor, not the applicant. Not sure if local psychologists (sp?) would be able to judge if someone would have arsonist tendencies and thought the information might help them.

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    Originally posted by George Wendt, CFI
    See? No one replied in response to this post about volunteer fire fighters setting fires. As an industry, we don't care.
    Its not that I dont care George. I usually refrain from replying to these posts because as a professional firefighter, it might seem I am fanning the flames as it were. Although I must admit. I have never heard of any firefighters locally being arrested for arson, paid or volunteer.

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    I'm not talking about the individual fire fighter. Most of you, individually, probably do care. My challenge was for someone to demonstrate what the fire service, as an industry, is doing about this problem.

    The answer, so far, has been...not a God-blessed thing.

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    What I wonder is , Is this a relatively recent phenomenon, or has it always happened and it is just with the advent of sites like this one that they come to our attention.

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    George,

    Individual depts and municipalities have taken steps to address and prevent, but you are absolutely correct, there is not a statewide or national attempt to address this issue and your damn right that there should be.

    I for one am sick and tired of these mutts casting a shadow on the Fire Service.

    What can we, as individuals do about this ? Contact your political reps and demand that something be done. Will it be successful ? I highly doubt it, for one reason, there are some groups that would like to see any and all F/F involved arsons handled quitely, 'cause it's an embarrassment ? I just don't understand why this isn't being addressed.

    Smoke286,

    This problem has been around for decades and I think your partially right that it's because of sites like this that it finally gets oout. The other reason, I feel is that we are slowly, very slowly seeing a few FD and PD admin's that are identifying and addressing the problem.
    These views/ opinions are my own and not those of my employer/ department.

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    What can we, as individuals do about this ? Contact your political reps and demand that something be done. Will it be successful ? I highly doubt it, for one reason, there are some groups that would like to see any and all F/F involved arsons handled quitely, 'cause it's an embarrassment ? I just don't understand why this isn't being addressed.
    This is not a government issue, it is a fire service issue. This issue must be addressed at the level of the major fire service organizations.

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    George,

    I agree that it is a Fire Service problem, some dept's address this VERY agressively, but as long as some of fire service leaders have the attitude of burying their head in the sand and refuse to recognize that this is a MAJOR issue, the fire service will never address it.

    That's why I think that the gov't should be addressing it in some manner that would mandate AND also fund background checks, pysch exams, etc.
    These views/ opinions are my own and not those of my employer/ department.

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    Default This is not about money

    res7cue
    I don't believe that a lot of money is necessary to do good background checks. There are many web sites that can be accessed with a few dollars a month or year that with some very basic information you can get a lot of information about individuals.

    Additionally, as I have posted on this site, on other threads, you don't even need to do that. Psycological testing is good but just doing some very basic things can go a long way in reducing or eliminating those from our ranks that would be likely to become arsonists.

    On your application ask for at least three personal references that are not related to the applicant. Call each one of them and ask them some very basic questions. How long have you known this individual? Do you know if they have ever been convicted of a crime? Do you feel that this individual can be trusted with your possessions and property? The questions should validate the answers that the applicant gave on the application. Any lies and the applicant is not recommended for membership. These first three references will most likely give glowing reports about the applicant.

    Then ask those three references if they know at least three other people that also know the applicant. Then call them...all of them. Then ask these folks the same questions. These folks will most likely give a more accurate picture of the applicants behavior and character. If any of these references give some questionable responses to your questions you should ask that person if they know at least three others who know the applicant. Then call them.

    What does this tactic cost you or your company? Just the cost of the phone calls, and your time.

    As far as I'm concerned I would rather do something because it is good practice rather than a manditory requirement from either a state or federal agency. Any time the government gets involved in anything they usually mess it up. And once you take tax money, then you have to run the program the way the government agency says that you have to. I don't like that, and I'm not comfortable with that at all.

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    AMFM,

    Again, I agree that we should be policing our own ranks and believe me, my dept does just that. Very thorough background check and interview(s) with both Volunteer and Career applicants.

    But again, there are MANY in the Fire Service, especially in PA that refuse to recognize that we have a problem, let alone try to address or prevent it.

    The other issue I see is, to be effective it needs to be consistent on a statewide basis and I think the only way that can be accomplished is for a State mandated and controlled process.

    To me that means it is time for Big Brother to get involved and do something so that this prblem is addressed. It is only getting worse and I see a major problem coming own the road as these incidents get more and more media attention, that the public is not going to fund the FD. They're going to take the attitude of, "Hey these guys are supposed to be helping and they're the ones setting the fires. Why
    should I donate money to them. "

    I just don't think we're gonna see the Fire Service address this issue properly or in a consistent manner. It needs to be done and needs to be done yesterday !!
    These views/ opinions are my own and not those of my employer/ department.

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    Default Big Brother

    res7cue
    We agree on a lot. I still don't believe that State or Federal mandates are the way to go. You are right that there are many in our state that still want to do things their way, and yes it may get to the point that in PA, state or federal mandates will need to be passed before we begin to see any changes. But I still think we can do everything we can to make the changes happen on our own.

    As far as having a bad impact on the financial side of the equation, I believe that has already happened. Two years ago there was a State Grant program that was helpful to many. Our past Governor did not support another grant this year. Word has it on the street that just days after the original grant program was signed, several volunteer fire fighters from PA were arrested on Arson charges. Those who helped get the grant program approved and funded were not happy.

    Afterward, on this forum, several PA State fire fighters complained that Governor Ridge was not a very good friend of PA fire fighters. I know that is not true and stated so on the forum then as now. What has the volunteer fire fighter in PA done to help his own case? This is just one of many that keep us in the dark ages.

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