Task force shares advice on curbing youth fire risk

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Cars sporting fire department decals from Indiana and Ohio recently crowded the Sweetwater Sound parking lot.

More than 100 social services specialists and firefighters gathered April 20 in Fort Wayne for the second seminar on youth fire setting.

Ivy Tech Community College-Warsaw educator Michael Slavkin explored the causes and intervention techniques.

In a statement, Captain Dave Meadows of the Fort Wayne Fire Department explained that fire setting issues may be brought on by curiosity or experimentation, or as a cry for help, or delinquency. Meadows works with the FWFD’s Fire Safety Education Division and is the coordinator of the Allen County Juvenile Firesetters Task Force.

Slavkin is chair of the Public Services Department at Ivy Tech-Warsaw.

“In the course of a year, there can be anywhere from 7,000-plus structure fires and house fires, and over $10 billion in property damage as a result of child-set fires,” Slavkin said. “So anything the community members can do to intervene and make sure kids don’t use fire inappropriately helps to reduce those numbers.”

Through case students, he cited warning signs of behavior that might lead to juvenile-set fires. He said the problem can involve children as young as 18 months or as old as 20 years.

“We try to explain to people in the community why kids might use fire when there are certainly very few times kids should be using fire. We train them to look at environments and make them safer for both our kids and the community,” he said.

He said the Allen County fire task force might work with 30 to 50 young people each year, coordinating resources of the mental health community, probation workers and the courts.

The task force and the annual seminar teach professionals how to better help the kids involved, Meadow said.

“One of the problems we had in the past is there was no communication between the fire service, juvenile probation, the court system, mental health community,” he said. “So people were seeing the kids in various areas but nobody was communicating it to anybody. What we’ve been doing is attempting to have a better networking process in the field, so that when somebody encounters a juvenile fire setter or a kid that maybe had some past fire setting issues, they know to contact us so that we can tell the family and make sure the kid gets help. Or they’re referred directly to us from the court.”

Slavkin said any professionals who want further information may contact him at mslavkin1@ivytecvh.edu.

Meadows can be reached at dave.meadows@cityoffortwayne.org.