The University Record, May 6, 2002

New Health System program teaches juveniles about fire dangers

By Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

A new national hospital-based program launched by the U-M Health System (UMHS) last week could help prevent fire-setting and accidental burns among America’s children and teens, thereby reducing the devastating effect that arson and fire currently have on the nation’s property and health.

The Straight Talk program, unveiled April 25 in a presentation at a meeting of the American Burn Association in Chicago, offers hospitals, fire departments, juvenile courts and schools a proven way to communicate with kids and teens about the tragic and painful medical consequences of burn injuries. The program was designed by experts at the U-M Trauma Burn Center.

“We hope we can stem the tide of fire experimentation, juvenile arson and burn injuries by sharing our community-based approach to helping children understand what fire can do to them and to others,” says Pamela Pucci, the U-M injury prevention educator who presented the program.

According to the F.B.I., more than half of all people arrested for arson in the U.S. each year are under the age of 18. This statistic is the tip of the iceberg, however, as fire-setting behavior by juveniles often goes unreported. More than half of elementary school children admit to experimenting with fire sometime during childhood, and without intervention, fire “play” can escalate to more dangerous behavior. Juveniles start more than a third of the fires that kill children under age 6, and civilian fire deaths are on the rise, totaling 4,045 in the year 2000.

The rise in young burn victims and fire-starters led U-M burn experts to design Straight Talk, an intensive program for high-risk children, age 8–17, who have been cited for arson or displayed fire-setting behavior. It already has been proven to prevent nearly all recidivism in 132 young arsonists and fire-setters who participated in the initial program at the U-M, as compared with 37 percent recidivism among 100 comparable young people who did not go through the program.

Straight Talk brings at-risk kids and their parents into a burn unit or hospital for a day long, first-hand look at what their actions could do to themselves or to others—including the fire fighters who also take part in the program. Participants are referred to the program by the juvenile court system, a local fire department, school officials or their parents.

“By giving kids, teens and adults a glimpse of the excruciating treatment, lifelong scarring, and risk of death that can begin literally in an instant with the striking of a match or a careless spark, we hope to drive home the message of the importance of caution and prevention,” says Paul Taheri, director of the Trauma Burn Center.

For more information on Straight Talk visit the Injury Prevention section of www.traumaburn.org or call (734) 763-7757.