Unique research published into juvenile fire starters

The findings of a unique research project into why some young people show a dangerous interest in starting fires will be presented this week.

Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) commissioned psychology academic Donna Lovell, University of the West of England, to look at the issue of fires started deliberately by young people. Last year in the AF&RS area 10% of deliberately started fires involving damage to property were attributed to people under the age of 18.

Over the course of her two year study which was jointly funded by Great Western Research, Donna worked closely with staff at AF&RS who provided access to 17 young people and families involved with their Firesetters scheme.  Since 2004 specially trained staff from AF&RS have carried out more than 350 one-to-one interventions with young people referred to the service.

During the research Donna carried out in-depth studies into the families involved in the Firesetters scheme, interviewing both the young people and their guardians. She also surveyed 321 school children aged between 11 and 16 years old from across the South West to find out how common firesetting behaviour is among the general population. The results revealed that 75% of boys and 53% of girls admitted involvement in fire related activities. 

Donna explained: “The findings from the study suggest that many children and adolescents have an interest and involvement in fire, with some youths experimenting with fire and others being involved more frequently and taking more risks.

“Many of the families I interviewed had multiple problems and their lives were very chaotic. Firesetting can also be tied up with friendships, and seeking approval.”  

Donna Lovell’s research has already been recognised at the Gore / Fire Research Excellence Awards 2009 and has been presented to the Chief Fire Officer’s Association.

Jane Carvell, Youth Intervention Manager at Avon Fire & Rescue Service explained: “Donna’s work is extremely important, not only here in Avon, but nationally as juvenile firesetting in the UK is an area in which there has been very little research.

“Over the last six years we have trained 30 members of staff to carry out one-to-one interventions with young people referred to us from a range of agencies. These may be very young children with an interest in fire play, through to teenagers with serious arson habits, but in many cases our staff have identified serious underlying issues that haven’t been picked up by any other agencies.

“While we have enjoyed successes through the Firesetters programme, the insight this research provides will allow us to focus our efforts more effectively on interventions that are proven to work. The fire and rescue services have a duty of care to the community and this valuable research will help us take steps to prevent fires with tragic outcomes happening in the first place.

Donna Lovell’s PhD thesis was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Stratford-on-Avon on Wednesday 14 April.

If you would like to know more about Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s Firesetters Scheme call 0117 926 2061 extension 393 for a confidential and informal discussion.