Huff, Timothy G. Fire-setting Fire Fighters: Identifying and Preventing
Arsonists in Fire Departments. Focus On: Arson. IAFC On Scene. Vol. 8. No.
15 (August 15, 1994). p 6-7.
Abstract: This article focuses on firefighters who commit arson.
While their number appears to be small, the author easily found twenty-five
cases across the continent, and interviewed the investigators who solved
those cases. From this data, he compiled comprehensive statistics regarding
the characteristics, motives, modus operandi and indicators of firefighter
Three motives were isolated; excitement, profit and revenge.
Most lone firefighter arsonists used materials found at the scene instead
of bringing gasoline or incendiary material to the scene. Nighttime was
the favored time period, and matches and cigarette lighters the favored
incendiary method. Most arsonists engaged in conspiracy drove to the scene
to set the fire. Lone arsonists drove, walked and several biked. Most fires
were set within the arsonist's own district until suspicion was perceived.
Then, fires would cease for a time, or an adjoining district would be selected.
Most arsonists started with smaller, nuisance fires and gradually escalated
to setting fires in areas with more potential for damage.
Signs of the presence of a firefighter arsonist included: an increase
in nuisance fires in a particular district and the absence of calls soliciting
a fire investigator's opinion. The author speculates that departments which
investigate all fires, including nuisance fires, may prevent the escalation
of a firefighter arsonist's activity.
Firefighter arsonists were frequently newer members of the department,
and most group offenders weren't inclined to set fires until becoming a
firefighter. In these 25 cases, all lone offenders were white males, and
all but two were between the ages of 18-23. In the group offenders, 60%
were white males and 40% were black males. They were all between the ages
of 16-35. The author collected a number of details regarding the education,
employment record and prior history of all the offenders.
Behavior of the chief and the departmental hiring practices was also
examined and the author stresses the importance of thorough applicant screening
and background checks.
Finally, in a sidebar, the author offers the assistance of the ABIS,
the Arson and Bombing Investigative Services Subunit, a joint initiative
by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms. The ABIS provides assistance in cases of arson, bombing, terrorism
and related crimes.