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Chapter 2 (continued)

Table 4
Revenge Motivated Arsonists


Personal retaliation

Group retaliation
(n= 1)

Institutional retaliation






41 years

22 years

Average 20.5 yrs

Type of fires set

Personal area/ property of victim

Berthing area where group lives

Nuisance fires in common areas of the ship


Off ship

On ship

On ship

Number of fires



1-5 (total 20)

Alcohol involved



Yes (57 percent)

Time of fires



Night (90%)



Berthing area


Disciplinary record



Yes (100%)

Table 5
Common Characteristics of
Excitement Motivated Arsonists

Characteristic of the Arsonist Thrills-motivated
Race White White
Age 20, 21 years Average 20.75 years
Type of fire set Major conflagrations Nuisance fires
Residence On ship On ship
Number of fires set 1 to 2 1 to 5
Alcohol involved No No
Time of fires Night Night (80%)
Location Storage (2) vehicle (1) Varied
Reporting, warning, fire fighting activities Does not participate Participates to some degree  (100 percent)
Disciplinary Record No 50 percent

There were insufficient numbers of offenders in the vandalism and profit motivation classifications to yield "typical" descriptions. However, it is likely that profit (discharge) motivated arsonists will set fires in their own berthing areas, usually involving their bunk or property, and will remain at the scene. Profit motivated arsonists usually set a single fire and readily confess to the offense. Arsons motivated by the desire for an early discharge from the military services are a subtype of profit-motivated arson (profit motivated arsons-other, Douglas, et al, 1992). The individual has a personal gain, which may be indirectly material, from the arson if it results in the desired discharge from the armed services. One can argue that release from a stressful and unwanted environment, along with freedom from military authority and the rigors of military life, equates to a material gain for some. Alcohol will probably not be involved in profit motivated fires but will be a factor in vandalism motivated arsons.

Revenge motivated arson was the most common type found in this study with 50 percent of the arsonists being classified as revenge motivated. Revenge motivated fires are most likely to be set at night and may be set in a variety or areas. When the fire is a personal retaliation fire, it will likely involve the living area or property of the intended victim. Group retaliation fires will be set in the area where the group lives or works. Institutional retaliation fires may be set in varied locations, including work spaces. Most likely the revenge motivated arsonist will have a prior military disciplinary or adjustment problem record. Consumption of alcohol beverages prior to setting the fires is a common characteristic of revenge motivated arsonists. Institutional retaliation arsonists may set more than one fire while the other types of revenge motivated arsonists are more likely to set a single fire.

Fires set by excitement motivated arsonists must be examined in two distinct classifications. The excitement-thrills motivated arsonist is probably the most dangerous of all arsonists who set fires aboard naval ships. This individual is likely to set fires at night in storage or supply areas where major conflagrations result. Alcohol is typically not involved in the excitement motivated fires. The excitement-recognition motivated arsonists, in contrast, set nuisance type fires in varied locations and actively participate in the fire fighting effort, through reporting, warning, and fire fighting activities. The excitement-thrills arsonist is unlikely to have a prior military disciplinary record while the excitement-recognition arsonist may have such a record or a record of difficulty in adjusting to the military.

Almost all of the arsonists in this study selected targets at random, used unsophisticated ignition methods, available materials as combustibles, and common accelerants such as lighter fluid and cleaning solvents . In this study there were no elaborate incendiary devices, delayed timing mechanisms or devices, trailers, or other indications of well-planned, organized arsons noted.

The choice of locations for arsons aboard naval ships tended to be in areas where the arsonists were familiar with the scene. There appeared to be little pre-planning or selection of specific targets by most of the arsonists. When a specific target was chosen, that target was generally selected for retaliatory purposes. Available materials and accelerants were used for the fires and the most common ignition device was a cigarette lighter. Only two arsonists took an accelerant to the scene of the fire. One used lighter fluid to ignite a cabin door in a sleeping area and the other carried toluene to a storage area.

All but one of the arsonists in the study held an enlisted rank. All but three (83 percent) were in the lowest three enlisted ranks, suggesting that all were likely to be serving their first term in the Navy. Two others were in the E-4 rank. The oldest offender, aged 41 years, was a Department of Defense civilian employee. The study indicates that arsons aboard naval ships are offenses committed by young offenders. The average age for 17 of the offenders was 20.4 years. Combined with the rank data, this again suggests the offenders are most likely to be serving their first term in the Navy.

Another prominent feature of the arsons was the use of alcoholic beverages by 44 percent of the arsonists. It is possible that others may have consumed alcohol before setting fires but that information was not available. Drug use was not a characteristic of any of the arsonists studied.

The arsonists and the arsons included in this study do not differ significantly in characteristics and motivations from those studied previously by the ABIS. This suggests that arsonists who set fires aboard naval ships do so because the ships are their current places of work and residence. It is probable that these arsonists would have committed arson offenses, given similar motivations, in other environments and circumstances.

Mass and serial arsonists were represented in the study. The mass arsonist set five fires at the same location during a limited period of time. He set five fires over a two to three hour period of time in different heads on the ship. One of the fires was set in a washing machine with a pair of dungarees and the other fires involved paper in the heads.

Five of the 18 arsonists in this study were classified as serial arsonists. The serial arsonists set three or more fires with a cooling off period between the fires. In this study the cooling off period ranged from a few hours to more than a week. Three of the serial arsonists were revenge-motivated, retaliating against perceived injustices by the Navy or supervisory personnel. One set three fires 8-9 hours apart. Another set three fires with 12 hours between the first two and the third two days later. The remaining serial arsonist motivated by revenge set four fires, two on one night and two more on the next night. Two of the serial arsonists were excitement-motivated. One set four fires at intervals ranging from one to five days. The other set five fires with the interval between fires ranging from one day to 10 days.

There appear to be several distinctions that can be drawn between the actions and behaviors of arsonists who set fires aboard naval ships. The arsonists motivated by vandalism, early discharge desires, and revenge tend to set fires that can be described as nuisance fires. They usually set fires in bathroom areas, berthing areas and other relatively public areas where the fires were likely to be quickly discovered and extinguished. Paper and cloth materials were most likely to be selected for the combustible materials in the fires. While fires in berthing areas are serious because of the danger to persons who may be sleeping in those areas, the reality is that such fires are not likely to spread very rapidly without discovery.

Excitement-motivated arsonists, on the other hand, tend to set fires that result in major conflagrations. The fires set by the excitement-motivated arsonist are more likely to be set in storage or supply areas where large amounts of combustible materials are stored and where fires have an opportunity to spread and intensify. The fires set by excitement-motivated arsonists in this study accounted for almost all of the damage losses.

This distinction suggests that, in terms of potential danger to personnel, fires in berthing areas are much less dangerous than fires set in storage and supply areas where the fires rapidly spread. The danger of smoke from a storage area fire probably exceeds the danger from a nuisance fire set in a berthing area.

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