ADDICTED TO FLAME - Why Do Firefighters Commit Arson?
What else, other than extreme altruism, could inspire someone to run toward a burning building, instead of away from it? "Denoon would say there were only two completely self-justifying occupations in the contemporary world that he had personally run into:" Norman Rush wrote in Mating. "One was fighting the Christian fascists of South Africa and the other was being a fireman, because you can never have the slightest doubt that you're doing something totally socially valuable by pulling people out of burning buildings. Medicine he excluded because people got rich doing it, and anybody who lived a life of service to the church—say in a ghetto or medical mission—also got excluded because ultimately their work was acquisitive and inwardly intended to increase the temporal power of their particular denomination. He said firemen were the only people he know with no self-doubt and that they went into their vocation knowing they had a thirty percent likelihood of ending up with a damaged spinal column." No wonder everyone loves firefighters: they are people of no doubt who inspire no doubt.
The firefighter-arsonist, needless to say, fucks up that whole dynamic. He’s a deviant, a sneak. Common belief holds that an arsonist enlists with the fire department because he (and it’s almost always a he) has some sort of insatiable lust for flames. Douglas Ford, an Ohio firefighter who burned down his own fire station, admitted to setting his first fire at 15. He was motivated by "the plain just… excitement of seeing the fire, realizing it's dangerous, but the excitement of the flame itself," he said after his arrest.
If the problem were that pyromaniacs were infiltrating our fire departments, that would be one thing. We would just need some way to identify them and weed them out—or, better yet, stop them from signing on in the first place, perhaps with some sort of complicated personality test—then the problem would be solved.
But the truth is much more complicated than that. Most firefighter-arsonists have never even considered setting fires before they joined up. The idea comes later, after a few months or years of service. In other words, it’s not the evil arsonists who are ruining our fire departments; it’s our fire departments that are igniting something destructive in our firefighters...
Seventy percent of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers—it’s generally only cities that can afford to pay their firefighters—and many of them serve in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.
Rural small-town firefighting is, on balance, boring. There are very few damaged spinal columns, or even damaged spinal column-risking situations. You sweep out the station and weld a water tank onto the new truck; you run fire drills at the elementary school and apply for Homeland Security grants. There are weekends of dull Hazmat training for disasters that will never happen to you. You eat cookies during business meetings and develop a comfortable belly. There is a reason those sexy firefighter calendars feature professional, city firefighters and not their rural, volunteer counterparts...
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 ...
Read full Story here: http://www.theawl.com/2013/12/fire-bugs