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Program warns children of dangers of playing with fire


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SALT LAKE CITY — Jordan Tracy knows firsthand how dangerous playing with fire truly can be. The scars on his body are a constant reminder that setting fires can be life-changing, extremely painful and tragic.

The 18-year old Roy teen recalled Monday how one day three years ago he and some friends ditched school and made the fateful decision to "mess around with (gasoline)."

On Nov. 29, 2007, Jordan Tracy received third-degree burns on 70 to 80 percent of his body. (Photo courtesy Steven and Shiree Clark.)
On Nov. 29, 2007, Jordan Tracy received third-degree burns on 70 to 80 percent of his body. (Photo courtesy Steven and Shiree Clark.)

"I took the gas away and spilled it on me and down the side of my house," he said. "My friend lit it on fire and it came up faster than I realized."

Within seconds, Tracy was ablaze in what he described as a "tsunami" of flames. He was flown by helicopter to University Hospital were he spent days in an induced coma while his body recovered from the nearly fatal trauma.

"Fire is one of the most dangerous, scariest things anyone can live through," he said.

Program warns children of dangers of playing with fire

As part of National Fire Prevention Week, University of Utah Health Care's Burn Center announced Monday a new partnership with the state fire marshal and Unified Fire Authority to help prevent juvenile arson firesetting. Fire safety advocates hope to teach potential juvenile firesetters about the devastating physical and emotional consequences of severe burn injuries.

"Children and adolescents are naturally curious, which is part of their normal growth and development, but sometimes risky behaviors can generate serious harm to themselves and others," said Annette Matherly, outreach education coordinator for the burn center. "Our goal is to really teach these kids about the reality of severe burn injuries, and it's these kind of learning experiences that have the deepest lifelong impressions."

What is ... Juvenile Firesetters Intervention Program (JFIP) ?
The Juvenile Firesetters Intervention Program (JFIP) is a community outreach effort designed to help stop dangerous behaviors before they become a problem. The goal is to recognize potential firesetting tendencies early, and to intervene by educating kids and families about the potential deadly outcomes. This program is a free community service aimed at education and safety and not for criminal tracking purposes.

The Juvenile Firesetters Intervention Program is a community outreach effort designed to help stop dangerous behaviors before they become a problem. The goal is to recognize potential firesetting tendencies early, then educate kids and families about the potential deadly outcomes.

The program is a free community service to educate and teach safety, not for criminal tracking purposes, officials say.

"We provide basic education, safety for the families, (and) talk about the potential consequences," Monica Colby, deputy state fire marshal, said.

According to national statistics, about one in every four fires is intentionally set, with nearly half of those fires set by kids under the age of 18. Additionally, youth account for almost 50 percent of all arson arrests, and nearly 85 percent of the victims of child-set fires in the country are the children themselves, according to a release.

Indicators child could be experimenting with firesetting
  • Burned items found in the home or where the youth frequents.
  • Spent matches found in places that cannot be explained.
  • Missing matches or lighters, or discovering that a child may be hoarding these items.
  • Unexplained burns on hands or to hair.
  • High interest in fire or fire related items or activities.

"This year, children in Utah have been seriously burned and even killed in fires they set themselves," said Utah State Fire Marshal Ron Morris. "When parents work with their neighborhood fire department at the first signs of a child's misuse of fire, the child rarely sets another fire."

Morris urged all people who work with children to be aware of those who may be setting fires and to seek help immediately.

Some signs that a child could be experimenting with firesetting include: burned items found in the home or where the youth frequents; spent matches found in places that cannot be explained; missing matches or lighters, or discovering that a child may be hoarding these items; unexplained burns on hands or to hair; or increased interest in fire or fire-related items or activities.

The intervention process can be initiated by any family or school system with a child who shows curiosity for arson or firesetting. Specially trained members of local fire departments will conduct an initial risk assessment to determine if the child could benefit from education, or if professional mental health therapy is necessary.

If education is determined to be appropriate, the child begins a fire safety and burn prevention course taught by local fire departments and the burn center.

In Utah, just 1.2 percent of fire departments have a staff member assigned exclusively to fire and life safety education compared to the national average of 12 percent. Program organizers are actively seeking participation from fire departments across the state, the release states.

For more information, contact the Utah Office of the State Fire Marshal at 801-284-6350.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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