Firefighter arson phenomenon needs to be addressed

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to preventing and extinguishing fires have a duty to stamp out firefighter arson, but how?

The firefighter arson phenomenon is one of the most difficult stigmas we face in the fire service.

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.

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Fire Department Management

Sponsored by

Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the Fire Chief Newsletter!

logo for print