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CFO Gallagher: Parents Must Warn Children about Arson


CONTACT: Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE-Students throughout Florida will begin their summer breaks later this month. In between the family vacations and summer camps, what will they do?

Florida's Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher urges parents to take steps to make sure their children don't fill their time by getting involved in the No. 1 crime among youth in the nation.

"Arson has the highest rate of juvenile involvement of all other serious crimes," Gallagher said. "Given the chance, children will play with fire, and most fire deaths involve children. These are preventable occurrences that can be stopped with education and information."

This week, May 2-8, is Arson Awareness Week. Organized by the United States Fire Administration, and sponsored in Florida by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention, the annual event is aimed at raising awareness about the costs, both in lives and property, related to arson. This year's theme is "Juvenile Firesetting: The Preventable Arson."

Some troubling statistics:

· Children under the age of 18 are responsible for more than 50 percent of all set fires.

· Juvenile-set fires cause an estimated $300 million in property damage every year.

· At least four- fifths of associated deaths and injuries involve matches or lighters.

· Three out of four children experiment with fire.

The State Fire Marshal's Office has organized numerous public education events throughout the state during the week, including television and radio programs, a poster contest and open houses at fire stations and fire and arson investigation offices. Some counties are announcing plans to launch new Juvenile Firesetter Programs. For a complete list of events, visit .

Parents can take steps to protect their children. For younger children, parents should store matches and lighters out of children's reach and sight, encourage and reward them for reporting when they find a match or lighter, and be sure never to play with a match or lighter in front of young children.

"Parents should not underestimate their children's curiosity about fire," Gallagher said.

For older children, parents should point out some hard facts. Arson is a crime, punishable by jail time and fines. If they commit arson at school, they could be expelled. If someone dies or is injured, they could be charged with murder or attempted murder.

Florida is one of seven states participating in a new Juvenile Firesetting Intervention and Prevention Project. The Florida project is being coordinated by the State Fire Marshal's Office with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Fire and law enforcement officials in Bay, Brevard, Columbia, Lake, Leon, Marion, St. Johns and Walton counties are now organizing new juvenile firesetting programs that will coordinate county resources to prevent and combat this crime.

Parents who believe their children need these services should call their local fire department.

"Unfortunately, juvenile firesetting is not always reported. Parents and school systems may be try to deal with such issues on their own," Gallagher said. "But the earlier a problem of juvenile firesetting is addressed, the better chance we have of preventing a possible tragedy."

To find out more about fire safety and arson prevention, visit the State Fire Marshal's web site at .