Novelty Lighter Initiative Gaining Momentum in Arkansas

Jan. 8, 2008
These toy-like devices are currently outlawed in other European countries, but have yet to be outlawed in the United States.

Clarksville is the latest in a growing list of cities in Arkansas that have jumped on the bandwagon to ban novelty lighters. An initiative started by the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office, Clarksville brings the total number of cities to seven.

Novelty lighters in plastic tubs are staple tools for fire marshals and public fire and life safety educators in Arkansas and throughout the United States. These toy-like devices, designed to look like motorcycles, race cars, animals and cell phones are currently outlawed in other European countries, but have yet to be outlawed in the United States.

Clarksville Fire Chief Ron Wylie stated of the council's action, "It was the responsible thing to do for the safety of all the citizens of Clarksville." He added, "We have been fortunate that we have not had any fires that can be attributed to the novelty lighter, and I hope that the council's action will prevent it from happening." Clarksville Mayor Billy Helms echoes the chief's sentiment, "I support whole heartedly banning lighters that are eye catching and tempting to children. Novelty lighters are extremely dangerous and I am pleased that this [ordinance] passed in Clarksville so that we can get them off the shelves."

Lt. Mark Shoemaker of the North Little Rock Fire Department has been instrumental in leading the state in this effort. A fire marshal for the department, Shoemaker decided in March of 2007 that enough was enough and decided to take the novelty lighter ban on. Collecting novelty lighters, Shoemaker frequently uses these lighters while speaking to parents and teachers in hopes to educate them on the dangers of lighters.

At times, Shoemaker feels frustration in knowing that something as simple as banning novelty lighters that can cause injury and even death to children and their families, can be so difficult at times. "There are people out there that do not fully comprehend what it is we are actually trying to accomplish. This isn't about punishing anyone; it's about doing away with something that no matter how you look at it, it is just a bad idea." He said, "They hear "LIGHTER" and "BAN" and automatically assume that Big Brother is trying to take something away. That's not the case at all. Let's pretend for a moment that we are not looking to ban novelty lighters, just those on the market that don't meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. government. Pick either one that you want, many of these lighters, regardless of what they look like, should not be on store counters in the first place." He added, "I agree, they are cute and I am amazed every time that I see a new one. The problem is that when the "novelty" has worn off and they get tossed aside, they get placed in a drawer or lost under a couch. We have all lost things that we didn't mean to, only to find them six months or even a year later. That does not mean were are not responsible parents, just that we're human. He concluded, "We can teach children that if they find matches or lighters, they need to tell a grown up. The part I struggle with is, how do you teach a child not to play with race car?"

Chief Wylie also expressed his frustration, "The nation is up in arms over the toy recalls in recent months, why is it taking so long to get the same response for the fake toys that adults leave lying around for their children to find?"

Jimmy Parks, Outreach Coordinator and a Burn Nurse for Arkansas Children's Hospital, echoed these sentiments in a letter of support of the ordinance to Mayor Helms and the Clarksville City Council members, "Two children recently died in a home fire in Russellville started by a child playing with a novelty lighter. Let's not wait for the body count to rise before we take action. More than 30 percent of the children we treat in the Burn Center are burned in fires they set themselves or fires with which they were playing."

Parks added, "Until the Consumer Product Safety Commission strengthens national laws restricting the sale of these lighters, we are relying on forward thinking local authorities to protect their children. Burn prevention professionals currently teach to children and families that lighters are tools, not toys, and require adult supervision. Novelty lighters, look like toys, are contradictory to the prevention messages currently taught."

This frustration has resulted in action in the state, as communities like Clarksville, are not wasting any time on passing an ordinance. Little Rock, Malvern, Fort Smith, Mountain Home, Rogers, Cove Creek, Jonesboro and Conway are just a few of cities in the state considering these bans.

The numbers are not in Arkansas' favor as the state has one of the highest numbers of fire related deaths in the United States, with most of those being young children and the elderly. Children under the age of 15 and adults age 65 and older accounted for 46 percent of 2001 reported fire deaths and 25 percent of estimated fire injuries according to the United States Fire Administration's, Fire in the United States (1989 - 1998 edition).

Even more alarming, in the Fire in the United States report (1992 - 2001 edition), it mentioned that four states, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware and Mississippi, have fire death rates that exceed 25 deaths per million population; the rates are the worst among the world's nations. In that same report, it stated that Arkansas children playing with fire accounted for four percent of residential fires and deaths in the state.

North Little Rock was the third city in the nation to ban lighters. What quickly followed, thanks to Shoemaker's perseverance and guidance in helping other interested municipalities, is an initiative truly gaining momentum. In September, the death of two toddlers in Russellville, Arkansas provided a "teachable moment" for the state's fire and life safety educators. Fire marshals and council members from across the state have contacted Shoemaker. His willingness to help has been unwavering.

Such was the case at the Clarksville City Council meeting, where Shoemaker, Chief Frank T. Hill, Sherwood Fire Department; Chief Randy Cox, Bryant Fire Department; and Nathan Travis, Arkansas Children's Hospital, were in attendance to answer questions to the efforts of banning the lighters in their respective communities and to address the dangers of these lighters.

A supporter from the beginning of the initiative in Clarksville, Alderman Danna Schneider realized the importance of keeping the community safe. "After seeing what happened to our neighboring town of Russellville involving the deaths of children due to novelty lighters, I felt it would be irresponsible on our part not to do whatever was necessary to protect the children, and indeed all citizens of our community from death and injury." She stated, "It is the duty of local governments to be attune to everything that affects the quality of life and to make sure that we provide a safe environment for everyone who resides here." She added, "I strongly encourage all localities to do the same and hope to see a national ban grow from local involvement."

When asked how the banning of novelty lighters is going, Shoemaker had this to say, "It's amazing how much of an influence the media can have on any given topic, whether it is negative or positive. It has really been great how much interest there has been in the state with this initiative."

He added, "Since the whole initiative began, there has been a lot a great people jump on board to make things happen. I have been fortunate through the years to meet some of the brightest minds in the fire service here in Arkansas. It is a collaboration of all of these people that have made this effort take off like it has. I was only able to influence one city; it's taken the lot of these caring individuals to make it happen in the cities of North Little Rock, Sherwood, Searcy, Bryant, Benton, Pine Bluff and Clarksville. Right now we have many things we are working on as a group." He also mentioned, "We are in the process of forming a coalition where we can all be heard as one voice and have a web page in the works. The webpage will be a place where anyone interested in the novelty lighter issue can go to learn more about the problem as well as find resources to help them should they decide to tackle this themselves." Shoemaker concluded with his thoughts for the future, "I have big aspirations for the whole initiative. I feel very confident, although it may take some time, that we will eventually see a statewide ban. If things stay on track like it is now, there won't be too many cities left where you can purchase them. We live in a great state. I would love to see Arkansas stay ahead of the curve."

For more information on the No Novelty Lighter initiative in Arkansas, visit the No Novelty Lighter website at or contact Lt. Mark Shoemaker at [email protected]. For more information on the actions of the Clarksville City Council, contact Chief Ron Wylie at [email protected].

Shoemaker offers these tips for banning novelty lighters in your area:

  1. First, establish if this will be a project that you will have to go in alone or will you have the support of your department. I can't speak for all; however, I would go out on a limb and say that the majority of the fire service in the United States would tend to be supportive of banning novelty lighters.
  2. Fire prevention through education is the key. Educate yourself so that you can educate others. People may misunderstand what it is that you are trying to do. I have met many people who had not seen a novelty lighter before. Once you show them a novelty lighter and explain the standard to which all lighters are supposed to be manufactured under, it doesn't take long to figure out why they are so dangerous.
  3. Learn all that you can about the issue on the World Wide Web. Information is just a short click away. If you can spell it, you can find it. The State of Oregon Fire Marshal's Office has a great deal of useful information and The Idea Bank has a great Public Service Announcement that you can utilize in your community.
  4. If you are not in the fire service but would like to contribute, contact your local fire department to see where they stand. Write a letter to your city leaders, telling them what you want to do, then ask for their support.

How You and Your Fire Department Can Help
According to Judith S. Okulitch from the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, their office is asking that fire investigators pay special attention to any fire that was ignited with a novelty lighter. Their office is willing to be the repository for data that involve these lighters and they are asking that investigators send them the age of the child involved, a description or photo of the lighter, any injuries or deaths that resulted, the amount of property loss, and the name and address of the responding fire department. The data form is available on their website at The data will assist fire departments working on the local, state and national level to pass legislation banning the sale and distribution of novelty lighters.

Okulitch also stated that the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal is working in partnership with the National Association of State Fire Marshals on the development of a strategic plan that will address the banning of novelty lighters on a national level.

Novelty Light Quick Facts

  • Oregon State Fire Marshal Nancy Orr recently announced a nationwide effort that involved prohibiting the sale and distribution of the lighters by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • According to the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal's website, National City, California was the first city in the country to pass an ordinance banning novelty lighters in June 2007
  • Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal's Hot Issues is published quarterly and covers the latest developments in juvenile fire setter intervention issues, including information on the latest news and information on novelty lighters. The newsletter may be requested from their office or available online at:
  • The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal's webpage is a great source for more information on novelty lighters, including posters, incident forms and novelty lighter gallery, complete with photos. The website is located online at:
  • A Public Service Announcement on novelty lighters is available by the Idea Bank free of charge at:
  • Senator Dennis Black of Iowa recently appeared before the Iowa senate to seek support for banning novelty lighter in his home state
  • State Representative George Overbey (AR) is currently researching the issue of banning novelty lighters in Arkansas

Dayna Hilton joined the fire service in August 2000 and currently serves as Johnson County Rural Fire District #1's Public Fire and Life Safety Educator in Clarksville, AR.

Firefighter Hilton was appointed by Governor Huckabee in 2005 to serve on the Arkansas Fire Prevention Commission. She serves as a Deputy Fire Marshal for the State of Arkansas and is a Professional Member of the Technical Committee of National Fire Protection Association where she serves on the 1035 - Standard for Professional Qualifications for Public Fire and Life Safety Educator Committee. She also serves on the International Fire Service Training Association Validation Committee for the Public Fire and Life Safety Educator manual. Firefighter Hilton is an International Fire Service Accreditation Congress certified Public Fire and Life Safety Educator II and Firefighter II. She is an adjunct instructor for the Arkansas Fire Academy, a contract instructor for the National Fire Academy and a member of the Fire Corps Speakers Bureau. Hilton is an International Association of Fire Chief State Fire Corps Advocate for the state of Arkansas.

Under her guidance, Johnson County RFD #1 firefighters and Fire Corps members were honored with the Arkansas Fire Prevention Commission's "Carnahan Award" in 2005 and 2006. The award is given annually by the Commission to an Arkansas Fire Department for recognition of excellence and achievement in the field of Fire and Life Safety and Fire Prevention. Other awards received by the department and its Fire Corps include the National Volunteer Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program Appreciation Award, the Gold 2006 President's Volunteer Service Award, the "Best Program Extreme Makeover Award at the 7th Annual Fire, Burn and Life Safety Conference, and the Daily Points of Light Award as the Nation's Volunteers of the Day on June 8th sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation. Hilton was awarded the 2006 National Volunteer Fire Council's Fire Prevention Award. The award is bestowed to a "volunteer who exemplifies the philosophy of fire prevention through their contributions to the field". She was recognized as a Dunkin' Brands Community Foundation Hero in July of 2007.

Hilton is author of the children's book, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog which will soon be available nationwide. Her department's and Fire Corps members have been featured in FireRescue, Volunteer Leadership, Front Porch, and Rural Roads magazines as well as the Journal of Association Leadership. The group has also been featured in several issues of the National Volunteer Fire Council's Dispatch, on the cover of a Department of Homeland Security Fire Corps Brochure and several national websites. She has authored articles for Fire Engineering Magazine and the National Fire Protection Association Journal. In 2006, two of Hilton's fire safety photos were chosen to appear in the International Fire Service Training Association's calendar.

Hilton, along with several of her departments Fire Corps members, are featured in the Fire Emergency Training Network's Achieve More with Fire Corps and Citizens Helping Fire and EMS videos for citizen advocates and fire departments. Her department was one of three chosen across the country to participate in this project and the videos are available nationwide.

During 2006 Fire Prevention Week, Hilton hosted "Fire Safety Tips" on PBS KIDS Sprout, the first and only 24-hour preschool destination available on TV. Assisting Comcast in the fire safety content of the PBS KIDS Sprout webpage, her efforts reached children online ages two through five and their parents and caregivers. In September 2006, she appeared live on FOX and Friends in New York City promoting fire safety, reaching almost one million viewers.

In 2007, after a national "Star Search" of Public Fire Educators by the Research Division of Fire Protection Publications at Oklahoma State University, Hilton was chosen to play the female lead in the educational video, Presenting Fire Safety Messages to Young Children. This educational video will be a multifaceted educational tool and companion piece to an extensive fire safety educational curriculum for young children 4 and 5 years old. The video includes instructional material for teachers, young children and firefighters.

An advocate for promoting fire safety, Hilton finds it her life's passion to keep everyone fire safe.

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