IFD encourages parents to sign kids up for program at first sign of interest in fire

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Two families are without a home after a fire destroyed a duplex on the city's near east side Sunday. Investigators believe a 6-year-old was playing with a lighter and started the fire in a bedroom.

Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) firefighters are encouraging parents to sign their kids up for IFD's Fire Stop program at the first sign of curiosity to fire. The times when IFD sees the most kids playing with lighters and matches are during summer, fall, holidays and spring break.

Those are the times when kids have more free time and may be monitored less by their families.

"Most of it is because of opportunity and a lot of times children have the opportunity, lack of supervision, and the availability of those items," explained IFD Cpt. Aleatha Henderson.

The program is designed around specific age groups. Generally, IFD sees children under 13 register most often for the Fire Stop program. Through videos, demonstrations and activities, the kids learn about the dangers of lighters and matches. Most of the children who go through the program begin with a curiosity to fire.

Since the Fire Stop program was re-worked in 2013, about eight kids have learned about fire safety. Parents also attend classes so they can learn how to keep lighters and matches hidden. Mental health specialists do an evaluation with the child to determine if further help may be necessary. The mental health component was introduced as a key piece of the program.

Henderson said most children who begin the Fire Stop program have already played with fire or had a fire related incident multiple times before. She said it's important that parents notice the first signs of fire trouble including burn areas or charring.

The program isn't mandatory. After a fire incident involving a child who is suspected of using matches, lighter fluid or a lighter, they are referred to IFD's program. Often times, parents are hesitant to admit their child has set a fire for fear they or their child might get in trouble. Henderson said that's not the case. She wants parents to know that it's unlikely criminal charges will be filed or DCS will be called. The program is designed to offer help to to families before it reaches a level where authorities need to step-in.

Fire Stop has an extremely high success rate. Only one child has gone back to playing with fire after completing the program.

One challenge leaders have, though, is remaining in contact with families throughout the entire program. The whole program lasts about one year. IFD meets with families a few times at first, then, they'll meet every few months. Henderson said when a family loses everything in a fire, they may register for the Fire Stop program, but then move to another city. They have no way to contact the family to follow-up on the child's progress.

They're hoping legislation will help program instructors stay in touch with the children going through the program.

The program is free and anyone can refer a child. Call 317-327-3473 for more information.