The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.
Welcome to this edition of the IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about the Youth Firesetting Information Repository and Evaluation System, which is called YFIRES for short.
YFIRES is a data collection project initiated by the International Association of Fire Fighters and funded by the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. Fire departments, mental health programs, juvenile justice programs, and other organizations that have contact with youth who have exhibited firesetting behaviors can now anonymously report non-confidential information into the YFIRES database. The data collected into the YFIRES system allows analysis that helps us better understand the youth firesetting problem and thus devise better prevention programs and provide more effective intervention to youth who have exhibited firesetting behavior.
So here to talk with us about YFIRES is Pat Mieszala, a member of the YFIRES Steering Committee. She’s a registered nurse and has been working on the youth firesetting problem for many years, including developing YSF programs with the National Fire Protection Association. Pat, welcome to the CFITrainer.Net podcast.
PAT MIESZALA: Well, thank you very much for the invitation.
PAT MIESZALA: Well, I think that many years ago, we started on a national level to look at the youth fire setting program in the United States and realized that children, not just older teenagers or young adults – children as young as 3 years of age were setting fires, and it really doesn’t matter how old children are when they set fires, the outcome is still the same, and it really doesn’t matter what their intent is, whether it’s curiosity or whether it’s an arson-related issue. The outcome is still the same: a tremendous amount of deaths, dollar loss, and injuries, and this has been going on for a while, and this is not a new problem. We looked at the issue many years ago, and I’m saying as early as 1978. A team of us were brought together by the US Fire Administration, and under a grant, were able to discuss and design a method of identifying children’s motivations, but also the possibility of risk of future firesetting.
We were able to train people to train people by way of the fire department, mental health people, and community leaders in looking at these incidents and evaluating the family, the child, the motivation, and coming up with some solutions to interrupt or interfere with the firesetting behavior, and we know for a fact that the intervention process that we’re training people to do actually has some wonderful outcomes, but we still didn’t have a national scope that was pretty concentrated. And consequently, the International Association of Fire Fighters decided that they were going to apply for an Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant through the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA to be able to bring together professionals from all around the country who are involved and dedicated in looking at the youth firesetter problem and providing these solutions and try to come up with a standardized data collection case management system, and that’s what YFIRES is.
ROD AMMON: Okay, excellent, so you said you’ve been working on this for many, many years. What’s the updated goal? I mean, I understand overall we’re trying to reduce the number of youth-set fires, but what’s the specific goal of YFIRES?
PAT MIESZALA: The specific goal is a twofold level. First of all, to create a central location for practitioners who are actually dealing with individual cases in their community to be able to log onto, and with password protection, put in their information case by case into a data collection that they, in fact, can use in managing individual cases. But of all the elements that are in that data set that they would be including in their case management, there are elements that will go into a national reporting system so that we can come up with a little bit better idea on the scope of the actual problem of youth firesetting in the United States. Right now, the fire statistics are being collected through the National Fire Protection Association and through the U.S. Fire Administration. However, they are not really concentrated or they’re not comprehensive, rather, and what we’re talking about here is actually creating a comprehensive system where we can identify on a better basis the scope of the problem.
ROD AMMON: When you talk about the existing reporting, you’re speaking of NFIRS?
PAT MIESZALA: Yes, the NFIRS reporting system, and of course, NFPA puts out their reports and the U.S. Fire Administration collects it through NFIRS. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all fires set by children are recorded anywhere outside of the local communities, and they may be collecting their data, and that’s not even as comprehensive as it could be because when children set fires, parents or caregivers don’t necessarily report them, and by the time they are reported to a fire department, the fire is pretty massive and it requires fire department intervention. So again, there’s – it’s a wide range of reasons and types of fires that children set, so in this, the YFIRES system will allow for a little bit more comprehensive view of what the scope of the problem is.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so what was the development process like for YFIRES?
PAT MIESZALA: It was a very interesting process, as you can well imagine; when you’re talking about multi-disciplines involved and a programmatic approach or a community approach to youth firesetting, so because of all the variables involved, it was a pretty complicated process initially to gather the right people together who are dedicated to working in this area and to really identifying the important elements that need to be collected in such a collective fashion. So there were several meetings for the Steering Committee, and then the stakeholders, who would be primary people involved, and because we were designing a website and a data collection system online, we involved a number of different people through different companies to be able to share what they have to offer, but also people who already have data collection systems in place such as the EMS people, and of course, the NFIRS people to try to identify the best possible way to design this.
And they decided that on the website there would also be not only a data entry ability but also a reporting system so that it’s important if people are going to be case managing as well as looking at national statistics that they have a way to get results of the data that they’re including. So the reporting system is being set up, along with a training tutorial for people to use the data collection system, and an area where people can actually look at reports and relevant or current articles on the youth firesetting problem. It’s going to be – it’s going to expand in terms of what it can do, the website itself can do, for people in addition to including the case management area.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so you talk about the uniqueness of this reporting, different from NFIRS and other places where you’re trying to get information obviously specific to the youth-set fire program. Talk a little bit, if you could, about the unique – you know, a couple of the unique sort of key data collection points that you have and how you might use those, why they’re important.
PAT MIESZALA: Well, I think it starts everything from the age of the child. Getting demographics about the child’s family is very important. It’s really difficult because there are, like, 130-some data elements that people put in there, and when you’re doing an assessment with a child and family, you’re looking for a number of different things. You’re looking for behavioral things. You’re looking for social things about the child. You’re looking for demographics about the family itself, number of siblings. You’re looking for disciplinary – ways that parents discipline the child. There are a whole number of different elements involved, so it’s really hard to identify exactly which ones are more important than others. I think it’s a collection of data elements that look at the child, the family, and the environment and trying to extract, based on all of that, the motivation for the firesetting, which will dictate the intervention.
ROD AMMON: We’ve learned a lot about this youth-set fire program and I know YFIRES is a separate thing, but as well as some of the education and training that’s going on related to youth-set fires, and it amazes me the impact that it has, and again, how young some of these children start and the extent of the damage that happens as it progresses going unaddressed. And I think…
PAT MIESZALA: Absolutely. I think that what we’ve really learned through the years in dealing with cases and training people to work with the youth firesetter problem is that if a child who starts setting fires at age, say, 4, 5, and 6, and when we’re looking at overall what we know right now about children, a typical age for firesetting, especially with male children is between the ages of 5 and 9. And if a child starts setting fires, say, at age 5 or 6 and nothing is done because people think oh well, they’re just boys or they’re just playing. They’re just playing. Nothing serious happened, and there are other elements in their social/family environment that are not good, the fire setting behavior – if the reason they’re setting fires is not just curiosity and no one stops to really take a hard look at what this child’s life is all about from all aspects and provide some necessary intervention and services, the child will continue to set fires through the years until some major thing happens, and life is lost or injuries or a tremendous amount of dollar loss, and then they get some attention paid to them.
So what we’re trying to do is get parents and teachers and preschool teachers and anyone who deals with young children who notice or know of a child’s firesetting – fire play behavior, to really kind of seek some support, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that every child is going to be referred to mental health for some serious issues or problems. That’s not the point. The point is that many children fall through the cracks if, in fact, some attention isn’t paid to both the educational issues around fire safety, but also to what they’re trying to communicate through this fire play or firesetting behavior.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so you have a big audience of folks that you’re trying to get out to: fire departments, special intervention programs, juvenile justice systems, task forces, fire marshal offices. I saw this list and it just sort of goes on and on. Who submits data to YFIRES?
PAT MIESZALA: YFIRES is open to anyone who’s handling cases, so usually if it’s going to be a multi-agency intervention, there will be a lead person who collects the information and would supply it. There’s a system within YFIRES, and specifically, if you go on YFIRES website, there will be instructions on submitting, and what they want to do is to identify a program so it’s not going to be just 20 people seeing this child is going to – they’re going to submit information separately. It’s not going to occur in that fashion. It’s a controlled situation, and one person will be identified as the administrator, and that person will be able to key in information and identify who all is allowed to key in information, but first, the program and who’s involved, we have a general – two general administrators for the website, for the data entry, and they will be aware of who – where are the programs, who is putting in the data, and again, how that’s going to happen.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so Pat, if I’m a fire investigator, what should I do? How do I become involved in YFIRES?
PAT MIESZALA: Okay, if you’re a fire investigator and you’re handling individual cases and you’re not already coordinated with a youth firesetter program in your area, what you might want to do is go to the youth – the yfires.com website, and it’ll ask you to register, and you would register as an individual fire investigator from whatever fire department. With that, up will come a list of where programs are, and maybe you’re not familiar with a coordinated program in your area. Say you wouldn’t be. If you see your city or your area identified, that means there is a program there, and that’s when you can connect with whatever that program is to include your cases into what’s being done already in your area.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so I go to www.yfires.com.
PAT MIESZALA: That’s correct.
ROD AMMON: And there is information as a new investigator where I just go and register?
PAT MIESZALA: Yes.
ROD AMMON: When I register, the system will give me information back and tell me whether there is an existing program in my area.
PAT MIESZALA: Correct.
ROD AMMON: And if there isn’t, somebody’s going to communicate with me, one of the administrators of the site, okay.
PAT MIESZALA: Correct, and as far as what you get out of it, the reporting that’s going to come back out of it is going to be twofold. It’s going to be this is where – like for grant purposes or whatever, you would be able to – they will be creating some reports by area eventually, and also, because of the 19 national data elements that they’re collecting, maybe the only thing you would be able to put in there for your cases if you’re not part of a program or whatever, you’d be able to put in those – and anyone can do that – just those 19 data elements that are nationally being collected so that you could go back in there, and then you can extract the report, the national report once the national reports are going to be put together.
ROD AMMON: Okay, so you’re not only helping track what’s going on in your area, you’re going to be able to get information that compares your area to other places around the country.
ROD AMMON: Okay, and that gets to one of the questions that we were going to do – that I was going to ask you, which was about what happens down the road? What do you see coming out of this data that’s being collected, and where do – what do you see for the future?
PAT MIESZALA: A couple things. One of the things is we’re going to get a better idea on the full scope of youth firesetting behavior in the country and the problems it’s causing. We are going to get a better feel for the dollar loss, deaths, and injuries caused by these fires. It’ll be much more comprehensive than what we’re collecting right now through the national data collection systems, and the other thing that we’re looking at, too, and perhaps this is the most important, is are we making a difference? Are we seeing recidivism among kids who are setting fires? Are we seeing some really successful outcomes with the kind of interventions that are being provided, and do we need to look at something else? Do we need to provide some other kind of resources that we’re not thinking about? I think that there’s going to be a whole lot of information that comes out of collecting this information.
ROD AMMON: That’s excellent, Pat, and thank you very much. I think understanding the problem and monitoring the changes is critical for fire prevention and the effective intervention of youth who exhibit these behaviors. YFIRES gives our audience another tool to effectively respond and report what they find, and I think, as you said, there’s going to be some information that comes back to them that they’ll all find useful in their areas down the road.
PAT MIESZALA: I think that this is absolutely true, and I am very grateful for the International Association of Fire Fighters and the assistance of the Fire Fighter Grant Program through USFA and FEMA and DHS because we have been trying to standardize some data collection across the country on youth firesetting for many decades, and they were the ones who really pulled it all together and put it together in YFIRES, and I just am very excited about this, and I think that we’ll see in the years to come that we really are going to have a better handle on what’s out there, and this is going to be of use to local communities and nationally.
ROD AMMON: I get that. I’m grateful as well to the International Association of Arson Investigators because what we’re doing here at CFI Trainer is not only under their auspice but funded by the same funding that you get from DHS and USFA, so it’s great when all of us come together, and I can tell you that the data that we collect, and I understand that the data you will collect, those are the things that people are looking at now to make a difference. If we can’t justify things, we just can’t create change.
PAT MIESZALA: No, no, and the numbers have to be there, and it’s just so difficult to get all the agencies involved to really do a good job with the data collection, and I think that this is going to be a major assist to them.
ROD AMMON: Well, thanks again, and we appreciate your time, Pat.
PAT MIESZALA: You’re very welcome.
ROD AMMON: And we also just want to remind any of you again, that’s www.yfires.com, and you can go in and register and take a look for a program in your area. Thanks very much, Pat.
PAT MIESZALA: Thank you very much.
ROD AMMON: Now for the IAAI news. There’s a couple of important things happening in the IAAI right now. First of all, if you haven’t registered for the Orlando 2016 ITC, it’s about time you do so. You can go to www.IAAIITC.com. There’s a promotional video up there that’ll give you an idea of what’s going on down in Orlando, and there’s also information about the classes that are being held and anything you need to know about hotels or transportation. Again, that’s www.IAAIITC.com, which is for the international training conference.
The IAAI’s website is at www.firearson.com. You can go there for general information. You can also pay attention to something on the left-hand column, and that’s about voting. I know there’s a lot of folks that are very interested in hearing what you think about new board members and new leadership for the IAAI, as well as changes that might be made to the bylaws, so make sure you go over there to the left side of the column, click on vote, and let your voice be heard here at the IAAI.
That concludes this podcast. Stay safe. We’ll see you next time on CFITrainer.Net. For the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net, I’m Rod Ammon.
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