Lexington battalion chief: Arson fires pose a danger to all

Lexington Fire Battalion ChiefAugust 21, 2012 

  • The division is the primary

    Agency to respond to:

    ■ Fire & Medical Emergencies

    ■ Hazardous Materials Incidents and Chemical Spills

    ■ Structural Collapse & Utility Emergencies

    ■ Accident Victim Extrication (Jaws of Life)

    ■ High Angle and Air Crash Rescue

    ■ Confined Space Rescue and Urban Search

    ■ Large Animal Rescue

    ■ Swift Water Rescue and Recovery Search

    ■ Fire Prevention and Public Education

    ■ Fire Investigation

    ■ Community Services (Victim Assistance)

  • Lexington Division of Fire at a glance

    ■ Lexington Fire Company formed in 1790

    ■ Currently employs 500 firefighters

    ■ All LFD firefighters are at least EMT's, 202 are paramedics

    ■ 23 Fire Stations house 22 Engines, 7 Ladders, 9 Emergency Care Units (ambulances), 1 Heavy Rescue unit, 1 HazMat unit

    ■ Serve over 300,000 people and cover 285 square miles

    ■ Responded to almost 44,000 runs in 2011

    ■ Currently averaging nearly 130 runs per day

    ■ Have been deployed by FEMA to national and international disasters due to expertise

    ■ House, maintain, train, and respond with regional Fire, EMS, and Rescue equipment for both state and federal agencies

During the first few months of 2012, the Lexington Division of Fire noticed a rather alarming trend with regards to arson fires in our city.

Beginning in January, multiple fires were set in the Hill Rise Drive area, and the increase of arsons continued until August.

Many times fires are set in a fit of anger, and are not well planned. But some times they aren't spontaneous acts of anger: they are planned. Neither of these fires are any less dangerous or devastating, but the planned ones are set and that person has no thoughts of remorse. In those cases, there is absolutely no thought for the lives that could be destroyed or for those who could be injured, including the firefighters trying to put out the blaze.

Arson fires are set for a number of reasons including: profit; anger; revenge; vandalism; crime concealment; political objectives; psychopathological factors; excitement.

Regardless, the consequences are not diminished based on the reason. For example, setting a trash can on fire in the middle of parking lot could result in an arson charge if it results in an injury. The penalty is 20 years to life.

Recently, a Lexington man was charged with arson for allegedly setting fire to an apartment building after he was evicted. Another was accused of setting fire to an apartment building after a fight with a resident.

There were multiple residents in both apartment complexes when these fires were set. The suspects showed no regard for the people living inside.

A commercial building was set ablaze in a much more deliberate manner that leaves no room for doubt that the intent was for the building to burn to the ground. The business, which was scheduled to open the week the fire was set, was heavily damaged and would have very probably been a total loss it were it not for the sprinkler system, which held the fire in check until firefighters arrived. Still, the damage delayed the business from opening for several months. And while the building was unoccupied when the fire was started, this suspect showed no regard for human life. In this case, the firefighters' lives were in jeopardy because they fought such a large structure fire.

In addition to those cases, we have seen fires set on a regular basis by juveniles, many of whom are very young. And while they do know that the act is wrong, many children are unable to comprehend the full extent of the seriousness of their actions.

In an effort to help them understand the repercussions — and to cut down on recurrences of fire setting — the Fire Investigation Unit operates a Juvenile Fire Setter Program. Trained investigators work with the kids and their parents, putting them through an intensive program that has been proven nationally to cut down on repeat offenses of fire setting.

The Fire Investigation Unit is staffed by highly trained personnel who have been through police training and are empowered to make arrests. They work with Lexington police to investigate and prosecute all deliberately set fires. The reason for — and the size of — the fire is irrelevant. The consequences are real.

All of the fires I've mentioned were set for different reasons, but the result of each was the same: people's lives were put in danger, property was damaged or destroyed, money was lost by occupants and insurers, and the lives of the victims and perpetrators were forever changed.

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