Firefighter arson is a persistent phenomenon involving a minority of firefighters who are also active arsonists. Fire-fighting organizations are aware of this problem. Some of the offenders seem to be motivated by boredom, or by the prospect of receiving attention for responding to the fires they have set. It has been reported that roughly 100 U.S. firefighters are convicted of arson each year.
Firefighter-caused arsons are not tracked in the United States. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) report arson related fires, however no specific system for documenting and tracking firefighter-caused arsons is in place. Without complete information on the statistics of firefighter-caused arsons, these arsons are perceived as isolated incidents. While some states may be able to produce information on the number of firefighter arson prosecutions, other fire agencies do not even acknowledge that the problem exists.
Motives behind why a firefighter would commit arson are widespread, ranging from excitement to concealing a crime. An excitement based motive would suggest that the firefighter wanted to be viewed as a hero. These fires are anything from "nuisance" fires, such as a trash container fire, to a fully occupied apartment fire. This motivation could be due to a need for excitement or thrill, but also in some rare cases sexual gratification. The firefighter would set the fire, allow it to be reported from an outside source before arriving on scene and acting as a hero. This can also be classified as hero syndrome.
The FBI study found that the arson cases involving more than one firefighter frequently were associated with department programs designed for younger participants, such as those for apprentice firefighters, youth groups, or auxiliary firefighter programs for teenagers.
In the 1990s, the South Carolina Forestry Commission and the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit developed separate profiles of a firefighter-arsonist:
|South Carolina Forestry Commission||FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit|
|White male, age 17–26||White male, age 17–25|
|Product of disruptive, harsh, or unstable rearing environment||One or both parents missing from home during childhood. If from an
intact home, the emotional atmosphere was mixed and unstable.
|Poor relationship with father, overprotective mother||Dysfunctional. One of their parents left the home before the child reached age 17. Cold, distant, hostile or aggressive relationship with natural father.|
|If married, poor marital adjustment||Poor marital adjustment. If not married, still living at home with parents.|
|Lacking in social and interpersonal skills||Lack of stable interpersonal relationships|
|Poor occupational adjustment, employed in low-paying jobs||Poor occupational adjustment. Menial laborer, skilled laborer, clerical jobs|
|Fascinated with the fire service and its trappings||Interested in fire service in the context that it provides an arena for excitement, not for the sake of public service.|
|May be facing unusual stress (family, financial, or
|Alcoholism, childhood hyperactivity, homosexuality, depression, borderline personality disorder, and suicidal tendencies|
|Average to above-average intelligence but poor to fair academic performance in school||Mixed findings on intelligence, but most arsonists have been found to have average to higher intelligence. Poor academic performance|
- "Firefighters who start fires: a look at the phenomenon of 'firefighter arson'". Edmonton Journal. 2016-05-03. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- Cabe, Ken. "SCFC Firefighter Arson Study". www.state.sc.us. Retrieved 2016-06-27. Published in Fire Management Notes Vol. 56, No. 1 (1996)
- Neufeld, Lydia (May 3, 2016). "Firefighter arson is a long-standing problem, experts say". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Report on the Firefighter Arson Problem: Context, Considerations, and Best Practices" (PDF). National Volunteer Fire Council. 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- "U.S. Fire Administration/Technical Report Series Special Report: Firefighter Arson USFA-TR-141/January 2003" (PDF). U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2019-08-17. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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