Youths Set Fires for Myriad of Reasons

BALTIMORE – There are a myriad of reasons why youths set fires.

They may have been abused and are crying for help. Some are suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, PTSD or mood disorders. Regardless of the reason, the conduct won’t stop without intervention.

Montgomery Township, Pa. Fire Chief Bill Wiegman shared his expertise on the psychology of the juvenile fire setter with folks at Firehouse Expo on Thursday.

View Firehouse Expo coverage here.

Many youths who set fires go into depression afterward knowing it was wrong. But, they will continue until they get help, he said.

Wiegman reminded personnel that some youths suffering from PTSD may not have been directly assaulted.  But, the residual impact is severe nonetheless.

“Depression and anxiety go hand in hand,” he said.

Control is another issue to keep in mind. “Society is teaching kids they can control fire…”

He mentioned children being handed birthday cakes with burning candles. From an early age, they learn they can control fire. “They blow out the candles year after year.”

While the majority take it in stride, it sparks interest in others. They believe they control it.

Youths with poor communication skills say setting fires made them feel in power and control.

Warning signs that children are setting fires in the home include missing lighters and an odor of sulfur. They are known to play with matches while hiding in closets, basements and attics.

He said it’s essential that once a young fire setter is identified they get the appropriate referral. The fastest way to do that is to go the criminal justice route.