AFR revives youth education program in hopes of preventing fires

Local News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Fire Rescue says they’ve responded to dozens of fires started by kids. So now, they’re bringing back a program to see if they can reach our youth before they cause a lot of damage.

The program focuses on educating kids within our community, while at the same time trying to prevent fires that have the potential to cause a lot of damage.

When firefighters respond to a blaze ripping through a structure, Albuquerque Fire Rescue’s investigation division is always on scene.

“What we’re looking to do is investigate the fire and identify why this fire happened,” Capt. Armando Martinez said.

That includes who could have possibly started it. “It’s a problem and it’s nationwide,” Capt. Martinez said.

The problem is fires intentionally set by children. Capt. Armando Martinez says nationwide, kids are responsible for setting more than 50% of fires.

In Albuquerque from 2012 to 2017, AFR identified 35 fires set by kids that resulted in more than $1.7 million in damage. It’s prompted AFR to bring back a program that hasn’t been used in more than a decade, the Youth Fire Awareness Program.

“There’s absolutely a need in the community,” Capt. Martinez said. “No matter what the kid has done or why he came into our program, our main goal is to educate these kids.”

Most of the kids that will come through the program will be by referral.

“This could be an on-scene fire officer, this could be a teacher, this could be a counselor, grandparent, auntie, uncle, or any concerned adult,” Capt. Martinez said. “That says, ‘Hey, you know what? This child is showing indications of being a potential fire setter.'”

The child and any family members will meet with fire investigators first to help identify the problem, then the Fire Marshal’s Office will take over to help educate them about the potential dangers of messing around with fire.

“We want to get to these kids before they go out, potentially start a small fire that then extends into a structure, or burns a house or school down,” Capt. Martinez said.

The program is completely voluntary. However, Capt. Martinez says there are circumstances when it’s not. Those include any criminal cases where investigators determine children are responsible.

AFR is already accepting referrals. Rio Rancho and Bernalillo County Fire are also involved in the program.

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