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Arson Awareness Week to Highlight the Danger of Meth Labs

5/11/2006

CONTACT:  Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842                                                                          

NORTH FORT MYERS—As part of Arson Awareness Week May 7-13, the State Fire Marshal's Office will set up a display in the parking lot of the Merchant's Crossing Shopping Center on Friday from 10 to 12 p.m., providing information and literature about arson, particularly the dangers of methamphetamine (meth) manufacturing and how to recognize the signs of meth activity. 
 
"Meth labs have been found in rural, city and suburban areas, in houses, apartments, motel rooms, vehicles, back rooms of commercial businesses and elsewhere," said State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher.  "Everyone has a role to play in fighting this epidemic."
 
Joining the Office of State Fire Marshal's Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations at the event will be the North Fort Myers Fire Department and the Fort Myers Fire Department of Lee County. 
 
The event will include a display of firefighting equipment.
 
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations has responded to more than 50 methamphetamine lab fires or explosions in the last two years.
 
The chemicals used to create meth are highly toxic and flammable, and many labs are also booby-trapped. As a result, more than 1,000 first responders have been injured in meth labs found in 16 states, including Florida, since 2001.  Nearly half of all children rescued from homes or living areas used as meth labs test positive for meth and need urgent medical care.
 
Gallagher is distributing a brochure urging the public to get involved and report:
 
Ø Strong chemical odors such as ether, ammonia (smell similar to cat urine) and acetone (smells similar to fingernail polish remover)
Ø Evidence of chemical waste or dumping
Ø Unusually active human traffic and activity in and out of property or home at odd times of day and night including frequent visitors
Ø The frequent burning of "trash" on a property  
Ø Curtains always drawn or windows blackened or covered with aluminum foil
 
Other signs of a meth lab include:
 
Ø Excessive amounts of cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine
Ø Propane tanks with burn marks or altered valves
Ø Charcoal starter fluid containers opened from the bottom
Ø Heating sources such as hotplates, torches or camp stoves
The brochure is available at www.fldfs.com/fightmeth.
 
The Legislature this year passed legislation that Gallagher pushed that:

• Authorizes the Department of Children and Families to begin dependency proceedings for the immediate removal of children found at meth labs.

• Allows the courts to hold meth producers without bail while awaiting trial.  This provision was included at the request of law enforcement because meth producers, once released on bail, immediately begin producing the drug again.

• Extends criminal penalties to include firefighters and other emergency response personnel injured or killed while responding to a meth lab (third-degree felony if injured; second-degree felony if killed or severely injured).

• Prevents first responders from having life or health insurance canceled because they have tested positive for meth as a result of performing their jobs.  
 
The State Fire Marshal's Office has provided intensive meth lab training to nearly 700 emergency responders, and this summer the State Fire Marshal's Office and FDLE will hold courses to certify 50 additional officers who can respond to and dismantle meth labs.  
 
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the 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.  To report arson, call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).