Programme that stops young firebugs

By Kyra Dawson

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New Zealand Fire chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter during his presentation. Photo/Kyra Dawson
New Zealand Fire chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter during his presentation. Photo/Kyra Dawson

Preventing young people from setting fires is the goal of an education programme, that's been running for two decades.

New Zealand Fire chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter paid a visit to Rotorua for the 20th anniversary of the national Fire Awareness & Intervention Programme this week.

It is a free consequences-based education programme designed to stop young people, aged from 5 to 17, lighting fires.

Young New Zealanders are over represented among fire setting offenders. In 2013/14, more than 80 per cent of referrals were under 15.

Over the last 20 years, 12,845 children and young people throughout the country have participated in the programme.

A 2009 University of Auckland study found 98 per cent of participants had not been involved in further fire setting, 10 years after completing the programme.

Mr Baxter said the programme didn't try to make young people feel guilty, but rather it educated them so they knew the dangers of fire, how fast it could spread, and how easily accidents could happen.

"The programme is targeted and aimed at youth under 18 who light fires. Most often it's a signal of something else going on in their lives.

"The really fantastic things about the programme are that it's a multi-agency approach, meaning we work with child and youth services and police, and when these kids go through this programme they don't light fires again."

In recognising a successful 20 years Mr Baxter, presented some of the longest serving practitioners with plaques to acknowledge their commitment and service.

Peter Wilding, manager of fire investigation and arson reduction, said most children lit fires for the fascination of fire rather then to cause damage.

The aim of the programme is to reduce the number of deaths, injuries and the millions of dollars' worth of property damage caused by juvenile fire setting.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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