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Gallagher Urges Floridians to Help Prevent Dangerous Juvenile Fire Play and Arson


Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842
TALLAHASSEE—Florida's Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is urging Floridians to join the State Fire Marshal's Office and local fire and law enforcement agencies in preventing youth from getting involved in fire play or arson.  Children are again the focus of Arson Awareness Week, which runs this week through May 7.
"Juvenile fire play and arson have very costly consequences for the youths involved, their parents and their communities," Gallagher said.  "Even though not all cases end in arrest – especially when very young children are involved – the consequences are just as real." 
Among the cases investigated last year by the State Fire Marshal's Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations:
• A 4-year-old boy and his 71-year-old grandmother suffered third-degree burns after the boy set fire to a kitten and the burning kitten set fire to the house.  The boy hid when the fire began and his grandmother had to search to find him.  Detectives determined it was not the first time the boy had played with fire.
• A 7-year-old playing with a road flare in his bedroom caused a fire that severely damaged his home.  The family had no insurance.
• A 5-year-old and an 18-month-old left alone in an apartment died after the older child found a lighter, began playing with it and started a fire.
During Arson Awareness Week, detectives from the State Fire Marshal's Office will participate in a range of activities, from open houses at their regional offices to in-school demonstrations and contests, aimed at teaching children about fire safety and the risks of playing with fire.  For a schedule of events, visit
Meanwhile, legislation that Gallagher has pushed to protect patients in nursing homes has now passed the House and is headed for an anticipated vote in the Senate.  The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Webster and Rep. John Stargel, will require all of the state's nursing homes to have automated fire sprinkler systems by 2009. 
The State Fire Marshal's Office emphasizes education for elders and children. 
The department's "Safe House Mouse" program offers tips for kids and suggestions for parents and teachers to share practical advice on how to prevent and escape fire.  That program can be found at  And, the State Fire Marshal's Office has created fire-safety bookmarks specifically targeting third-graders.
"Parents should not underestimate their children's curiosity about fire," Gallagher said. 
Gallagher said parents, guardians and teachers must teach children respect for fire and offered the following tips:
• Keep matches and lighters out of children's reach and sight.
• Never play with matches or lighters in front of children.
• Teach children to tell an adult if they find matches or a lighter.
• Teach children to tell an adult if they see someone playing with matches or a lighter.
• Teach them how to dial 911.
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. 
The State Fire Marshal's Office supports and participates in several counties' Juvenile   Firesetting Intervention and Prevention Projects that aim to help turn-around young arsonists. The April 2005 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin features a cover article on juvenile arson.
Among the more than 2,200 fires that the State Fire Marshal's Office ruled as arson in 2004, 69 Floridians died, 32 were injured and more than $50 million in property was damaged.  
Nationwide, children under the age of 18 are responsible for about half of all arsons. Further, arson has the highest rate of juvenile involvement of all serious crimes.  Of the 454 arson arrests state arson detectives made last year, 159 were juveniles.
 The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.