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State and Local Fire Authorities Mark Arson Awareness Week

When most people see a fire truck zooming down the street, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, they usually think of an accidental fire or even a forest fire. But, federal, state and local officials gathered in Tallahassee Wednesday, to remind citizens of the very real danger of Arson.

Arson is the criminally intentional setting of fire to a residence, business, or other type of property and officials, like Chief Joe Steadman with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, want residents to know it isn’t a victimless crime.

“Arson is not a problem that only affects the fire department or law enforcement; you will see that arson affects every citizen in Leon County and the state of Florida,” Steadman said.

According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, there are more than 16,000 cases of arson across the country every year, costing close to $600 million in property damage. In Tallahassee, for every 300 or so fires, 15 are a result of arson and Steadman said those numbers are a conservative estimate.

“This figure does not take into account the indirect economic impact that these fires cause- money gone from lost sales and productivity, lost wages, and the fact that each of face rising insurance premiums as a result of this criminal activity. The bottom line is that arson takes dollars out of the pockets of hard-working Florida citizens,” Steadman pointed out.

Also, as a part of Wednesday’s event at Tallahassee Fire Station 4, firefighters showed how different materials react to fire and how certain accelerants leave behind clues that investigators later use to piece together  a case. But, Fire Department Spokesman Mike Bellamy said investigating arson cases is a tricky process.

“When the call goes out the fire department arrives on scene and our first priority is trying to rescue any victims and extinguish the fire. Well at that point, we have to treat it sort of like a crime scene, we have to try to preserve evidence, we can’t just go in there and put three foot of water in the home. We’re trying to preserve evidence, were trying to identify whether or not it was accidental or intentional,” Bellamy explained.

Although officials may work in different areas of firefighting, whether investigating or rescue, they all agree that fighting fires and fighting arson always starts with a citizen’s observation and call.

“You know the community needs to know that if they see something that doesn’t seem right in their neighborhood, contact local authorities, contact the state fire marshal’s office and let the know,” Bellamy reminded.