The Firefighter as Arsonist

The classic image of an arsonist is a person who sets fires for financial gain, for attention, or out of anger. The classic image of a firefighter is a hero -the most visible occupation in which people put themselves in danger to save lives with no expectation of a reward. So why are so many fires started by firefighters? One theory is that pyromaniacs are drawn to the occupation, but that doesn't hold up. Firefighter arsonists who have been caught say they never considered starting fires before they joined the department.   

The average firefighter-arsonist is a young white male of above-average intelligence, no criminal record, and "poor occupational adjustment." It is unclear how significantly this profile differs from, say, the average firefighter who does not commit arson. He works for a fire service that doesn’t get many calls, which may be why he’s eager to prove himself. He tends to start with small grass or Dumpster fires, and then progress to abandoned houses or garages. It’s rare that a firefighter-arsonist will opt for inhabited buildings, or locations where people are likely to be hurt.

Firefighter-arsonists often work in teams, egging each other on. "Before the fire, we were just sitting around bored," said Robert Vasquez, who admitted to committing arson in Prince George’s County, near D.C., in 1990. "We were talking about how the Chief yells at us for the things we do wrong and everybody was saying ‘Let’s wait for the next fire to come out and maybe we can do good on it’… And then the words, ‘Set a fire’ came up."

An article at The Awl looks at the life of a firefighter and how the occupation itself -and the way the public views the job- contributes to the decision to start a fire. -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user Rob)

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