Protect Your Children and Home From FireAug 13, 2014
There’s no doubt that fire has a certain allure, but children’s fascination with fire often ends in disaster. Annette Matherly, outreach coordinator at the Utah Burn Center shares some examples of how we can all contribute to fire safety. She gives some ideas for keeping children and communities safe from the dangers fire can pose.
Interviewer: You know there seems to be something very primal about our attraction to fire, especially for young kids, and even though they know the dangers and maybe you've had the talk about fire safety with them, probably is worthwhile having again because the consequences of kids playing with fire can be devastating in terms of cost, injuries, and life changing consequences. We're going to talk about that next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Children and fire can be a dangerous, deadly, and very costly combination, and it's a problem that all of us are really responsible for. Annette Matherly is the Outreach and Education Burn Disaster Coordinator at the University of Utah Burn Center. Now let's talk about youth fire setting prevention for a second here, and it's really all of our responsibilities to look out for these types of things. First of all, is it a serious problem? Is it something you see a lot?
Annette: Absolutely and it's on the rise in our communities. You know especially at this time of the year the kids get out of school in July and August, and they're bored, and they're curious, and it's hot, and it's dry, and you know going back to the birthday cake theory they you know they're presented with a candle on a birthday cake at age one, and in they blow it out, and they think they can control fire, and...
Interviewer: And fire is fun, everybody cheers right?
Annette: Absolutely, and they're rewarded with a gift, and a cake, and yea, and so kids are not afraid of fire, and so that is why they play with it, and they play with it because nobody's around.
Interviewer: Not afraid but fascinated by it. I mean I'll have to admit I'm a little fascinated by it.
Annette: Me too.
Interviewer: What other thing you know can you do to something where it disappears?
Annette: I know.
Interviewer: And watching it burn is kind of fun, am I worrying you right now or is this pretty natural?
Annette: No it's pretty natural. We're all curious right? Humans are curious so some people are a little more curious than others, and especially you know the younger age population so the 5, the 6, the 7, and the under 12.
Interviewer: They're experimenting.
Annette: Yeah they're trying to figure out who and what they are and they may see bad examples from maybe parents, or older siblings, or for sure from video games, etcetera. There are a lot of video games that deal with fire play.
Interviewer: So a little bit about fire then, its curiosity primarily that's the cause of this type of behavior, are there other causes as well?
Annette: Well there can be other causes as well. Unfortunately abuse is one of them; it's a cry for help. You know if a child is getting abused maybe on a couch or you know in the backyard in the shed than perhaps the couch will be set on fire, or perhaps the shed will be set on fire as a means to say, "Please help me. I can't do this by myself." So it can be a cry for help, most of the time it is curiosity, or sometimes kids can be pathological and this can be a mental illness for them.
Interviewer: So regardless though it's something we all need to be on the lookout for, what do you mean by that exactly?
Annette: So an example I have, last year I was running, I love to run, and there's a great trail out back of my house, and there was this teenager I ran by, and he was collecting this big mound of sticks, and you know I run by and I think, "Cool, kid doing something which is other than watching a video game that involves fire," right? But as I ran past I thought, "Why is he collecting this big mound of sticks, and what exactly is he going to do with this big mound of sticks, in this big dry field?" And so you know I doubled back, and it's kind of awkward I don't know this kid, and you know teenagers are sometimes scary, they look at you with this strange look, and I yell over to this, what, 12, 13, 14 year old and I say, "Hey what are you doing with that big wad of sticks over there?" And he said, "I'm just building a big mound of sticks," and you know kids of course are not going to tell the truth.
So I looked at him and I said you know, "I hope you're not thinking of setting alight the field is really dry, I live right by here, there are a lot of people in our community that can be injured by a fire if you set a fire." So I tried to educate him a little bit, and then I looked at him and I said, "You know what? I will remember your face, and if there's a problem then I will come looking for you," and you know again it's awkward, and it feels kind of weird, but it takes a village to keep people safe, and sometimes when there's a child who's just curious, or maybe repeatedly sets fires, it takes multiple people to watch out for them because as a parent you can't always be there observing your kids a 100% of the time.
Interviewer: So if you see some kid just playing with a book of matches, or even have the book of matches, or whatever, just you've got to be diligent it sounds like, and...
Annette: Absolutely yeah.
Interviewer: A little bit brave, which is so crazy isn't it?
Annette: You know and you talk about the book of matches, or lighters, or a big thing with our teens right now is accelerants, and those things are extremely dangerous so if there are parents out there listening to this please do not just tell your child to not play with your Bic, lock up your Bic, ask them where there the fire sources are in the house. I guarantee you've forgotten where a couple of Bic's or barbeque lighters are, and they will show you where they are. Kids are amazing, and they find everything. Those things need to be locked up in order to keep children safe, specifically if they have an interest in fire that seems a little abnormal.
Interviewer: Yeah, and if the hairspray's disappearing a little quickly maybe, maybe ask about that, or...
Annette: Absolutely, you know and the big thing too, this drives me crazy, is parents please set a good example to your children. If you play with fire you are leading your children to play with fire, and you know that you can maybe put the fire out, although again that's back to the birthday cake theory. We can't control fire, we may not be able to control fire, and for sure your children can't control fire so set a good example to your children, and to those around you, and monitor your neighborhood, and educate where you can because now you know this information, that knowledge can give you power, and empower you to go out and to educate your families and those around you the importance of staying safe.
Interviewer: And just like your story, who knows if anything, if that kid was even thinking about it, but you know for sure nothing happened.
Interviewer: You know it could have been disastrous really.
Annette: He probably told all his friends there's this crazy jogger.
Interviewer: Watch out for here, and not only does it keep your neighborhood safe but there are some major legal ramifications if somebody is playing with fire and it causes damage.
Annette: Absolutely, you know again it's easy to set a real small fire in a field but then the field gets overtaken and the fire gets out of control and then it burns a couple of houses close to the mountainside, and so there are legal ramifications to that also, and parents can be held financially responsible for the fire misuse of their children.
The other thing that I want to say about that too is even young children under the age of 18 can be prosecuted as an adult, and they can have a criminal record. And that's really important in these days where it difficult to find a job sometimes to keep our children safe, and to educate them appropriately, and again to tell them about the dangers of fire use, and the long term problems that could ensue if that fire gets out of control and they injure or damage property or people.
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