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Fire prevention through education

Children play with fire for a variety of reasons, causing damage to property and even killing themselves or others in the process.

The six Kitsap County fire departments recently joined forces in an effort to curb children’s fire-setting behaviors, which could potentially save lives.

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue (CKFR) spokeswoman Theresa MacLennan spearheaded the Kitsap Fire Stoppers, Children’s Fire Prevention Program. MacLennan works with about eight to 12 children ages 3 and older each year who have set fires. She attended the National Fire Academy’s Juvenile Firesetters Interventionist Course in November 2007 in Maryland.

MacLennan came back to Kitsap County with a wealth of knowledge on preventing fire-setting behaviors and began putting together the Kitsap Fire Stoppers program.

“There had been a program in the past and it’d kind of been taken by the wayside,” she said. “There hadn’t been a consistent program.”

MacLennan put together the thick manual about how the program works and presented it to the Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association for approval. They approved the detailed program and MacLennan was recognized for her work on Kitsap Fire Stoppers at a county Fire Chiefs Association meeting in September.

“She’s dedicated to this cause and it shows,” said Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association President and South Kitsap Fire & Rescue(SKFR) Chief Wayne Senter.

CKFR, Bremerton Fire Department, Bainbridge Island Fire Department, North Kitsap Fire & Rescue, Poulsbo Fire Department, SKFR, the Kitsap County Fire Marshal’s Office, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Navy Region NW Fire & Emergency Services all have at least one employee properly trained to work with Kitsap Fire Stoppers.

“One of the advantages of doing this consistently is that we can help each other with it,” MacLennan said. “If we have everybody trained up on our program we can kind of help each other.”

Kitsap Fire Stoppers is a free service offered by the participating agencies and all information is confidential. A person, such as a parent or school official, can call their local fire department and recommend a child participate in the program if the young person exhibits fire-setting behaviors.

The department’s trained Kitsap Fire Stoppers representative will schedule a meeting with the child and his/her parents or guardians. MacLennan said meetings are not at fire stations and children do not get to tour a station, fire engine or medic unit. Instead, the initial one- to two-hour meeting is held in a conference room or another location similar to a classroom.

“(Kitsap Fire Stoppers) is not in any way a reward,” MacLennan said. “Even though (starting fires) may be an attention-getting behavior, it’s not a rewarded behavior.”

The Kitsap Fire Stoppers representative will talk with the child and parents or guardians about why he or she is setting fires and educate the entire family on how to stop the destructive behavior.

“It really is listening to the kids to figure out what happened,” MacLennan said.

The Kitsap Fire Stoppers manual includes a variety of homework assignments, videos and other ways to educate the child and his or her family in an attempt to curb the behavior.

“Generally, it’s a meeting with the parent and child and follow-up homework and conversations,” MacLennan said. “We do check in to see how the child is doing.”

MacLennan said fire service members are not counselors, but have been trained to determine the proper course of action after evaluating a child’s situation.

If a Kitsap Fire Stoppers representative thinks the child needs further assistance, he or she will refer the family to a mental health specialist, according to MacLennan.

Senter said Kitsap Fire Stoppers is a great way to address an issue that affects Kitsap County and other communities nationwide.

“I think it’s an excellent program. It has really targeted a problem in our community as in any community,” he said.

MacLennan said there are similar juvenile fire prevention programs across the country, but Kitsap County tailored the program to its own needs.

“It’s somewhat national, but we’ve taken it and put a local twist on it so it meets our needs,” she said.

For more information on Kitsap Fire Stoppers, contact your local fire department.

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