Friday, December 6, 2013

About 100 Firefighter Are Arrested For Arson Each Year: Boredom Likely Cause of Firefighter Arson

From THE AWL, "Fire Bugs" by Rachel Monroe:
Every year, something like 100 firefighters are arrested for arson-related crimes. In one year, 1994, South Carolina alone charged 47 firefighter-arsonists, besting their 1993 record of 33 arrests. "It happens more than you think," former federal agent Daniel Hebert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Really, it goes on way more than anyone knows. We don’t know about most of them."
Most firefighter-arsonists have never even considered setting fires before they joined up. The idea comes later, after a few months or years of service. In other words, it’s not the evil arsonists who are ruining our fire departments; it’s our fire departments that are igniting something destructive in our firefighters.
But most firefighter-arsonists aren’t motivated by money as much as, well, boredom—that, and a desire to prove themselves.

Seventy percent of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers—it’s generally only cities that can afford to pay their firefighters—and many of them serve in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.

Rural small-town firefighting is, on balance, boring.
The average firefighter-arsonist is a young white male of above-average intelligence, no criminal record, and "poor occupational adjustment." It is unclear how significantly this profile differs from, say, the average firefighter who does not commit arson. He works for a fire service that doesn’t get many calls, which may be why he’s eager to prove himself. He tends to start with small grass or Dumpster fires, and then progress to abandoned houses or garages. It’s rare that a firefighter-arsonist will opt for inhabited buildings, or locations where people are likely to be hurt.

Firefighter-arsonists often work in teams, egging each other on. "Before the fire, we were just sitting around bored," said Robert Vasquez, who admitted to committing arson in Prince George’s County, near D.C., in 1990. "We were talking about how the Chief yells at us for the things we do wrong and everybody was saying ‘Let’s wait for the next fire to come out and maybe we can do good on it’… And then the words, ‘Set a fire’ came up."
[A] significant number of firefighter arsonists are not "little men" or pathetic losers who want to wreak havoc on a society that’s rejected them, but rather overachievers, team players, firefighter-of-the-year types.
We found that a lot of these young men didn't have an awful lot in their lives to distinguish them except for their association with the fire service," said Ken Cabe, who studied firefighter arsonists for the South Carolina State Forestry Commission. "They were highly motivated, they were highly trained and maybe the alarm didn't go off often enough for them."

In other words, a firefighter who sets fires may not be some entirely separate and deviant kind of person, but rather a good guy who goes to extremes. And firefighting, with its long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme danger, inspires extremes.

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