The United States Fire Administration (USFA) is urging states and communities to recognize Arson Awareness Week May 2-8. The annual effort is all the more critical in a year of high profile arson cases, both civilian and firefighter.
According to the USFA's National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 316,600 intentional fires are reported in the U.S. each year. These cause injuries to an estimated 7,825 firefighters and civilians, and an estimated $1.1 billion in property loss.
The USFA is partnering on this event with the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), USAonWatch, National Association of State Fire Marshals, National Volunteer Fire Council and the Insurance Committee for Arson Control.
Bob Schaal, president of the IAAI, spoke to Firehouse.com this week about the issue of arson in the U.S.
He noted that only a small fraction of arson fires are cleared by arrest. “According to the uniform crime reports published by the FBI annually, arson has a 15-18 percent clearance rate, which is certainly not what we want,” he said. “It’s a serious crime, it causes over a billion dollars in damage every year, numerous lives are lost, numerous firefighters are injured… it’s a problem that we need to attack.”
For the past seven years the IAAI has received grants from the USFA as part of the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program, which they have been using to design and develop http://www.CFItrainer.net, the online training resource for fire investigators, Schaal said.
With their latest grant, the IAAI is looking to develop more training modules for the site and to develop practical exercises that provide a higher level of evaluation, he said.
The theme for this year’s Arson Awareness Week is Community Arson Prevention, and the goal is to provide community groups and members with strategies to combat arson in their neighborhoods. A resource kit is available at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/arson/aaw10_media_kit.pdf.
Every fourth fire reported in Michigan is an arson or suspicious blaze, according to the document. Each year now the state promotes Arson Awareness Week with radio ads and news reports, a public awareness campaign and several awards: the Prosecutor of the Year Award; the Anti-Arson Achievement Award; and the Fire Investigator(s) of the Year award. The program also includes middle and high school anti-arson poster contests.
Pennsylvania is also home to a notable program: Hero to Zero, which addresses firefighter arson, a more recognized crime than in the past. The program was implemented by the Pennsylvania Association of Arson Investigators (PAAI). It has since been presented in six states, and now Colorado and Louisiana have similar programs mod¬eled after it. For more information about the Hero to Zero program go to http://www.herotozero.info.