Children and Fire


Each year, children are responsible for many of the fires that are set in this country. These fires cause millions of dollars in damages, thousands of injuries, and hundreds of child deaths. Juveniles account for more than half of all arrests for arson in the U.S. Children are responsible for more than one-third of all fires set in Pittsburgh. Our own studies show that between 50 and 59% of firesetting children in the Pittsburgh region may be expected to set another fire within a two-year period (Kolko et al., 2001).

There are many reasons why children play with or use fire. The reasons include:

  • • Being curious about or attracted to fire
  • • Having limited knowledge about the dangers and impact of fire
  • • Looking for help or attention
  • • Wanting to feel powerful
  • • Expressing anger or a desire to change an unpleasant situation

Our Program


The Services Aimed at Fire Education and Treatment for Youth (SAFETY) Program in Pittsburgh, PA, is an outpatient program that has provided treatment specifically intended for children and adolescents who exhibit firesetting behaviors and their families since 1998. The SAFETY program is currently supported by the Juvenile Court of Allegheny County. SAFETY integrates probation officers from the Special Services Unit (SSU) and clinicians from the Services Aimed at Fire Education and Treatment for Youth (SAFETY) Program program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC). Together, these two programs constitute the "SSU/SAFETY Collaborative Treatment Program". This program represents the only comprehensive service in Pennsylvania serving children and adolescents exhibiting firesetting behaviors that involves a coordinated collaboration between probation officers and mental health practitioners.

The SAFETY program is designed to:

  • • Conduct a specialized evaluation of the child/adolescent to determine the type and intensity of services most likely to be helpful.
  • • Conduct a specialized evaluation of the family to determine the type and intensity of services most likely to be helpful.
  • • Conduct Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment to modify deviant and prosocial child behavior and parental or family interventions emphasizing child management procedures.
  • • Provide training in fire safety and/or psychological/behavioral skills, as needed.
  • • Help parents/families cope with the aftermath of a fire.
  • • Minimize the risk of future firesetting.

In the course of our services, we monitor each child's progress and offer feedback to families on a regular basis.