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The City of Portland, Oregon

Fire & Rescue

Always Ready, Always There

Phone: 503-823-3700

Fax: 503-823-3710

55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204

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What to do if Your Child Sets Fires

What to do if Your Child Sets Fires
A parent can do a lot to prevent children from being involved with fire. Children look to parents for guidance, leadership, and as a role model. Listed below are some tips to help you deal with firesetting behaviors you might encounter.

  • Lead by example. You cannot expect your child to treat fire any differently than you do.
  • Explain why they cannot use fire. Simply saying "DON’T" is not good enough. Think about how you react when you are told that.
  • Treat matches and lighters like tools. Give these items the same respect you would other dangerous tools around your home (for example: knives, kitchen appliances, hammers, etc.)
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach of all children. Better yet, remove all un- necessary matches and lighters from your home completely. Most children are only involved with fire because it is available.
  • Reward children for making right decisions with matches and lighters. Also, make clear the punishment for the improper use of matches and lighters.
  • Encourage your child’s school to promote fire safety in the classroom.

REMEMBER: if you are uncomfortable with your ability to deal with your child’s firesetting behavior, call us for additional help.
Portland Fire & Rescue has a program to deal with children who have been involved with fire.
THE YOUTH FIRESETTER PROGRAM is an educational program designed to educate parents and children about fire safety and the consequences of fire. Each family meets individually with a firefighter trained in firesetter intervention techniques. The firefighter will discuss and help the family better understand how to deal with the problem. If a child is beyond what fire safety education can resolve, we can provide assistance by referring you to the most appropriate help for your needs.
If you have any questions related to firesetting, call Portland Fire & Rescue’s Youth Firesetter Program Manager at 823-3741.

Most children get the information they need to be safe from fire at home and school.  
We refer to children as “firesetters” when they begin to use fire in a way that is dangerous or not approved by a parent. 

  • Myth: It is normal for children to play with fire.
  • Fact: Curiosity about fire is common, playing with fire is not.
  • Myth: If you burn a child’s hand, they will stop.
  • Fact: Burns only create fear and scars. The reason behind fire use must be discovered and addressed.
  • Myth: It is a phase the child will grow out of.
  • Fact: It is not a phase. It is a dangerous behavior. You cannot afford to wait for fire behavior to change. It only takes one match to cause serious injury or death.
  • Myth: Youth firesetters are obsessed with fire.
  • Fact: In reality, very few children are obsessed or would be considered pyromaniacs. There is almost always a reason behind the behavior.


By determining the motivation for the firesetting, we can best determine how to deal with it. Most children fall into the following classifications:

  • children are usually young
  • fire usually involves paper or other valueless objects
  • children will be secretive
  • children will usually fear the consequences of their actions
  • children may have ready access to matches and lighters around the home
  • children may not fully understand the parent’s rules regarding fire use around the home
  • parents may be setting a bad example for children as they use matches and lighters for everyday tasks

Treatment: Family Fire Safety Education

  • children may be any age
  • there may be no apparent reason for the firesetting behavior
  • firesetting may occur during times of personal or family stress
  • firesetting may accompany other acting out behaviors
  • children may also be experiencing problems in school or with friends
  • firesetting is often meant to destroy clothes, toys, or other items or personal property that belongs to them or others

Treatment: Family Fire Safety Education and/or Counseling Assistance

  • usually older children and adolescents
  • firesetting is usually in association with other rebellious behavior
  • there may be other children involved
  • firesetting may occur with other acts of vandalism
  • children show little or no regard for others around them
  • firesetting behavior is often accompanied by anger, depression, or other unresolved feelings the child may have

Treatment: Family Fire Safety Education and Counseling Assistance

When firesetting goes beyond what you are able to deal with, call your local fire department. Most fire agencies can provide fire safety education for your family. Many have specific programs to deal with children who have been involved with fire. Do not postpone dealing with this behavior. Fire is a devastating and deadly force.