It didn't help that the movie "Backdraft," while certainly a testament to firefighters' bravery and heroism, made a firefighter-arsonist a central character in the plot.
Now I don't believe, nor have I seen any credible evidence to suggest, that firefighters have a greater propensity to commit arson than members of the at-large population.
For obvious reasons, however, the notion of a firefighter committing such a heinous crime is unconscionable and will always be headline news.
So what's the point? Do those of us who have dedicated our lives to preventing and extinguishing fires have a duty to stamp out firefighter arson? Of course we do, but how?
I have to admit that I don't know enough about what would possibly motivate a firefighter to commit arson; potentially risking his/her own life, the lives of our sisters and brothers, and those we are sworn to protect. The very idea is so far beyond my realm of comprehension, I simply cannot imagine having to deal with it; still, I understand it's something we cannot ignore.
While we probably cannot prevent every case of firefighter arson, we must address the problem through our recruiting processes, both career and volunteer, and by supporting firefighters with expanded behavioral health services throughout their careers-and beyond.
About the author
With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.
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George A. WendtFriday, March 14, 2014 7:20:55 PMDuring my 20 career as a law enforcement fire investigator, I was involved in investigations that resulted in the arrest and conviction of 39 volunteer fire fighters for arson and related crimes. I consider myself an "unwilling" expert in this area.
It is true that there is no demographic profile for a fire fighter arsonist, there are most definitely personality and psychological traits that can be used by trained professionals to predict a candidates propensity to set fires. Tim Huff, FBI NCAVC (retired) has done much work in this area. The only sure fire way to eliminate those people who are prone to setting fires is a psychological screening PRIOR to appointment to the department. Regretfully, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Why, you may ask? I believe the reasons range from some FD Chiefs believing that the problem can't happen to them ( it certainly can) to the reality that many fire fighters WANT fires to fight. This represents a cultural challenge for the fire service. It is slowly changing in some areas, but is alive and well in others.
It is a noble goal to want to rid the fire service of this black eye, but it is quite another thing to come up with a well thought out plan to o so.