Cops go to the source to stop young arsonists
INCLINE VILLAGE – A rash of fires set by juveniles here has prompted development of a program sponsored by Washoe County Sheriffs and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.
The number of fires increased from zero a year ago to 20 over the past year, said NLTFPD Fire Marshall Tom Smith.
“The problem was getting way out of hand and we had to find a way to deal with it on the prevention end,” Smith said. “That’s when we heard about a program out of Henderson.”
By summer’s end, youths ignited 11 fires in Incline Village, compared to the total of six started by juveniles in the last 10 years.
The program, run by Kathryn Hooper of the Henderson Fire Department, teaches children about the consequences of starting, or as Smith referred to it, “messing with fire.”
Smith said the district adopted the program after seeing Hooper’s presentation.
“The kids that get in trouble for starting fires, bringing fireworks to school or even being caught in possession of a cigarette lighter can find themselves in the program,” Smith said. “Parents whose kids haven’t been caught can volunteer their kids to take the program just as a precaution.”
The program takes between three and four hours and consists of a DVD viewing.
“These kids on the videos tell how they were messing around, got themselves burned and what the treatment was like, including receiving skin graphs,” Smith said. “It’s not pleasant to look at, but we’re trying to make a lasting impression here.”
The kids are also given talks about the gravity of what a careless act with fire can have, not just on them as individuals, but the entire community in which they live.
“They’re also told that their parents can be held liable for what they do and go to jail, pay a fine or both,” Smith said.
Smith said the program has proven very successful in Clark County, showing a 70 percent non-repeat offender record.
“We’re looking at accomplishing even a higher rate here,” Smith said. “It’s a much smaller community and we can’t afford to have even one child being careless with fire here.”
To that end, Smith said that the district, in conjunction with the sheriffs office, has adopted a zero tolerance approach to the problem.
“Any child over 8 years old caught messing with fire will be arrested,” Smith said firmly. “No ifs, ands or buts.”
Tracing the impetus of recent juvenile-started fires is easy, according to Smith, who cites the influence of the MTV series “Jackass,” which has recently released a theatrical version.
“The kids see the stunts on the show, where guys are throwing or holding firecrackers in their hands, or trying to light each other on fire, and they think it’s cool,” Smith said. “They don’t realize the implications. Our program is aimed at filling in what the show leaves out.”