Operation Extinguish is a model program developed by the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service in 1984 to provide intervention and educational services for juvenile fire setters and their families. The program combines psychological counseling and fire safety education in an effort to eliminate this behavior.
The United States Fire Administration reports that juveniles set over 50% of all fires. In some areas this figure is as high as 70%. Juvenile fire setting is a leading cause of arson nationwide, according to a 2001 study by the National Association of State Fire Marshals. In 1997, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that 6.3 percent of those involved in arson activity were under the age of 10. Another 37.5 percent comprised kids under the age of 15. Officials advise that these statistics may be conservative. Many incidences in which damage is minimal and no one is harmed go unreported by families who believe it is just child's play. In 1998, "child-playing" caused more than 67,000 fires across the United States, reports the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Nearly 300 people died in those fires and close to 2,000 were injured.
Operation Extinguish combines psychological evaluation and intervention with safety education in an effort to eliminate fire setting behavior. Juvenile fire setters age 7-18 are charged and required to report to the Montgomery County Police Youth Division with their parents for screening. After interviewing the child and the parents, the screening officer decides whether or not to refer the child to Operation Extinguish. The program for the child and his or her parents consists of two major elements which are Psychological evaluations of both the child and family, and six hours of fire safety education. Referrals to Operation Extinguish may also be made by the parent or guardian also.
The program has had tremendous success since it was originated, with hundreds of juveniles successfully completing the program and is recognized by the National Association of Counties as one of the outstanding juvenile justice programs in the United States.
If you would like more information on Operation Extinguish, write or call:
Bill Delaney, Public Education Specialist
Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service
101 Monroe Street, 12th Floor
Rockville, Maryland 20850
For more information, visit The Chrysalis Group website.