Rutherford County, TN— May 3-9 is Arson Awareness Week. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s Fire Loss in the United States During 2018 Report, there were 25,500 intentionally set structure fires resulting in $593 million in property loss and an estimated 9,500 intentionally set vehicle fires resulting in $65 million in property loss in the U.S. in 2018. There were a total of 350 civilian deaths associated with intentionally set fires. These statistics showed an increase in intentionally set structure fires at 13 percent over 2017 and an increase of 25 percent over the 2017 civilian death rate. The figures do not even include the number of civilian and firefighter injuries related to those fires.
The overall picture painted by these numbers serves as motivation for the Rutherford County Fire Rescue (RCFR) Fire/Arson Investigation Unit (FAIU)’s aggressive goal to prevent and combat arson in Rutherford County. Just ask Lieutenant/Assistant Fire Marshal Joshua Sanders, a team member of RCFR’s FAIU–“Since March 2019, we’ve made around eight arrests for arson related crimes,” he said. “That’s a fairly significant number for our County.” Sanders added that in 2019 alone, the fire damage total for Rutherford County reached nearly $1 million.
The FAIU is a three-man team of certified investigators that is tasked with investigating all fire and explosion incidents of a suspicious nature or where a cause cannot be determined by fire suppression crews.
“The unit actively investigates the origin and cause of fires within Rutherford County in order to assist with public education and fire prevention efforts as well as to combat the crime of arson,” explains Sanders.
Investigators complete extensive training in cause and origin determination, interviewing and interrogation, evidence collection, and criminal investigations. RCFR’s FAIU investigators have sworn police powers and conduct criminal investigations on all incidents involving suspicious or illegal fire-related activities.
Receiving certifications through either the State of Tennessee, the International Association of Arson Investigators, or the National Association of Arson Investigators, the unit is also permitted to issue citations for fire-related offenses within the state of Tennessee.
The team works closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies such as the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Murfreesboro Police Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“The crime of arson is one of the most costly human-made errors,” said Sanders. “Arson indirectly contributes to increased insurance premiums, higher medical costs, lost jobs, lost income, and the increased cost of fire services.”
How Can You Help?
Sanders said the community can join RCFR to decrease the number of arson cases in the county. “Arson Awareness Week is a great time to let our citizens know how they can help.”
He urges citizens to start with their own homes or properties. “Look over the area outside your home and consider what could easily be ignited and grow into a larger fire. Remove any overgrown vegetation and abandoned cars or equipment.”
“Make sure to clean up around vacant homes or property too,” said Sanders, “and keep them secured. All of these things make it harder for people to find things to set on fire.”
Sanders also warns to watch for kids. According to NFPA, half of the people arrested for arson are under the age of 18. “Parents, educate your children on the consequences of committing a fire-related crime,” he said. “The most common fire setters in your area are generally boys in their teens who set fires either alone or in groups.”
“Organizing a neighborhood watch program can be a great way to get to know and interact with your neighbors,” commented Sanders. “It’s also a way to reduce the potential for fire-related crimes.”
Sanders also urges the community to watch for suspicious activity when out and about. “Keep an eye on area businesses. Sometimes arsonists target stores, places of worship, theaters, schools, and other recreational sites.”
“Always report suspicious activity,” said Sanders. “If you see something, say something.”
Protecting Your Family
To protect your family from fire, make sure your home has the correct number of working smoke alarms. If you need assistance with alarms, RCFR provides them free with installation.
Families should also create and practice escape plans. “Escape plans should include a designated meeting place,” said Sanders, “From there, dial 9-1-1 and report the fire.”
For More Info or to Report Suspicious Activity…
For more information on RCFR’s FAIU, free smoke alarm installation, or to report suspicious activity, contact RCFR at 615-867-4626. You can also contact the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office at 615-898-7770 to report suspicious activity.
Lastly, Sanders mentions the Tennessee Arson Hotline. “Any information that leads to the successful arrest and conviction of an arsonist can result in a reward of up to $5,000.”
The Tennessee Arson Hotline is 1-800-762-3017.
“We are passionate about cutting out arson in Rutherford County because we care about this community and the safety of our citizens,” said Sanders. “This goal is even more attainable if we work together.”