ARSON AWARENESS WEEK – Arson During Civil Unrest
By Doug DeHaven
Arson Awareness Week 2021 runs from May 2 to May 8 and highlights critical actions that first responders must take to ensure a safe response to arson fires during times of civil unrest. The topic this year has become front and center as civil unrest across the United States has increased to a point not seen since the 1960’s. Adding to the risk, fire and EMS personnel and their apparatus have become targets for participators to direct their anger. These incidents are clearly outside of the norm for responses by fire and emergency service units. My message today, and the message of those delivering Community Risk Reduction (CRR) programs on arson awareness in our community, should not be limited to times of civil unrest. Understanding and preventing arson fires is all our responsibility year-round.
Arson is a criminal act of deliberately and maliciously setting a fire to property. This can be from the setting of trash receptacles on fire to the setting of fires to buildings, motor vehicles and wild land. Arson within our communities destroys a community’s financial assets, impacts the lives of those around the locations of an arson fire, risks injuries and deaths to those in the area and the emergency responders. The property owners where arson occurs can expect to pay increased insurance premiums and increase taxes as property values decrease. Arson involving a business can result in the loss of employment to a community. Most crimes of arson are not solved by DNA or physical evidence, but information obtained from those in the area where arson fires are occurring. This makes it important that we maintain positive relationships with all in our community.
How can we get the community involved in the arson prevention effort? A good starting point, according to the USFA Arson Prevention Projects, should focus on identifying and removing what could burn or materials that an arsonist could use to start a fire:
- Clean up the neighborhood by removing all garbage, material, and excess vegetation that is capable of being ignited,
- Remove all possible sources of ignition such as flammable liquids and unused gas containers,
- Remove abandoned vehicles,
- Secure abandoned and vacant homes which are potential arson targets,
- Encourage Neighborhood Watch programs and patrols of areas of vacant buildings.
We should educate the citizens of our communities in ways they can assist fire and law enforcement officials when an arson occurs in their neighborhoods. According to information from today’s webinar “Arson Awareness Week – An Unjustified Crime”, information shared by Special Agent Robert Graybill of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on ways that the public can be of assistance on an arson fire included:
- Notifying authorities of fire damage, no matter how small,
- Avoid cleaning up the fire damage / scene prior to the investigation by fire / law enforcement officials,
- Take action to preserve the fire scene and any evidence present,
- Securing the area / scene, or
- Provide investigators with any video of the fire, area of the fire, or suspicious persons, vehicles, or suspicious activity.
Arson prevention is a responsibility of all fire departments to help promote information on maintaining a safe and healthy community.
Below are some resources available to the Public, Emergency Responders and CRR Educators on Arson and prevention methods can be found at the following sites:
- United States Fire Administration – www.usfa.fema.gov
- Arson Awareness Week 2021: Arson During Civil Unrest (fema.gov)
- Fire and EMS response to civil unrest (fema.gov)
- Protecting Homes Against Arson (fema.gov)
- International Association of Arson Investigators – www.firearson.com
- Abandoned Building Toolbox (firearson.com)
Information on this subject can also be found through most property insurance companies. Check with your local insurance agent offices.
Douglas DeHaven has been involved in various aspects of the emergency services for the past 41 years. As a member of the Volunteer Fire Company of Halfway, he served up through the ranks from a junior member to the position of Deputy Fire Chief. Doug was hired by the Hagerstown Fire Department where he worked for over 36 and a half years, starting as a cadet / firefighter and later an apparatus operator before being promoted into the fire marshal’s office where he served the last 12 years as the Fire Marshal. During his time in the fire marshal office, he conducted numerous investigations and prosecution of those involved in fires that were determined to have been intentionally set. Doug currently serves as Co-Chair on the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association (CVVFA) Community Risk Reduction Committee.