Don’t play with fire. Stop, drop and roll. Follow your escape plan.
Despite catchy phrases burned into children’s minds regarding fire safety, young students often are responsible for – accidentally or intentionally – starting blazes that grow from small to terrifyingly large.
The Knightdale Fire Department has decided to become proactive in education, with three firefighters completing a certification through the U.S. Fire Administration last month to curtail problems with kids before they become more dangerous.
Around five or six cases of juvenile-caused fires are reported in Knightdale annually.
In the summer 2012, a young boy playing with a lighter set ground covering on fire, which rapidly spread into a bush, then up the side of his apartment complex and into an apartment. Although no one was harmed, two years earlier, the boy had burned down a trailer.
Knightdale Chief Tim Guffey pointed to that story as an example of where education would be vital. Often, in cases of juvenile arson, the state gets involved. But instead of punishment for juvenile arson, the department is looking toward education as the solution.
The N.C. State Fire Marshal taught the Youth Firesetting Prevention and Intervention course through the National Fire Academy to firefighters around the county, including Knightdale Lt. Jonathan Burgess, firefighter Jason Pope, and firefighter Chris Parker.
Two Wendell firefighters, Capt. Brian Amerson and Capt. John Underhill, took part in the training as well.
More firefighters will be trained moving forward, with a goal of maintaining one educator per shift at the department.
As a result of their training, firefighters can use specific questions and training to teach young troublemakers about the dangers of fire, and discern if there are greater issues underlying the exterior behaviors, such as a challenging home life or personality disorders.
“We understand that kids, especially age five to 12, find fire fascinating,” said Knightdale Fire Chief Tim Guffey. “At that age, though, they don't always understand the depth and the danger of what they're doing.”
“We’re trying to be proactive and not reactive, and so to be ready and equipped,” he said.