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Helping Kids Learn Fire Safety

On average more than 300 fires a year are started by juveniles in the Houston area. About 70 percent of those arson cases are the result of kids playing with lighters. Capella Tucker reports local fire departments are reaching out to these families to prevent kids from playing with fire again.

The message from fire departments is lighters are tools for grown-ups that should not be in the hands of children, no matter what the lighter may look like.

“Recently novelty lighters are more and more popular and they can look anything like a child’s toy.”

Harris County Juvenile FireStoppers Program Director Kim Herring holds up a metal, yellow toy motorcycle. Hold it vertical and the front tire pops back.

“Click,” the sound a lighter. And there’s a flame coming from the body of the motorcycle.

Herring next reaches over to the black watch she is wearing.
“Click,” the sound a lighter.

And another small flicker comes from the watch.

Kids have a way of getting their hands on things they shouldn’t. Fire officials are concerned these small toy-like objects can lead to trouble. Both Harris County and Houston have Juvenile Stopper programs to work with children who show a tendency to play with fire. Elizabeth Ferrer works with the H.F.D program which works with more than 200 children a year. No fire play activity is taken lightly.

“Even if they’re just burning leaves over a bucket of water that has the potential to grow into something big. And so, not all of our kids that we see are kids that have sent big fires, or fires that have even involved suppression to come out and put out the fires. We get referrals for kids that are doing what you would call doing little things.”

One of the messages is that all fires start small. While some kids are referred to the Juvenile FireStoppers through court orders, the programs are not a part of law enforcement.

“Generally with the adolescents, because it is court mandated, they’re usually other issues that are going on as well. And those are the types of things we look for. We assess all of our juveniles, not just adolescents, to see what was the motivation behind the fire, whether it was crisis driven or not. And if they need appropriate intervention we do our best to refer them out to the appropriate social services.”

Harris County reports that already this year nine fires have been set by juveniles playing with lighters. Two people died in the incidents.

Capella Tucker. KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.

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