Link Between Firefighters, Arson is Common

August 12, 2013

The arson arrest of a volunteer Missouri firefighter isn’t as uncommon as some might think.

Lincoln County volunteer firefighter Dustin Grigsby was arrested Monday and accused of torching a garage, but authorities say he is suspected in 14 other suspicious fires in the Old Monroe area.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that across the country, an estimated 100 firefighters are arrested for arson each year.

Researchers have for years tried to determine what drives firefighters to become arsonists, or if arsonists are drawn to be firefighters. The FBI and universities are among those seeking answers.

Grigsby is 19, and firefighter arsonists are generally 17 to 25, according to research by Matthew Hinds-Aldrich, an assistant professor of fire science at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass. He authored the 2011 National Volunteer Fire Council’s “Report on the Firefighter Arson Problem.”

Grigsby’s father is a fire district captain.

“You can imagine, how does Junior make a reputation for himself? How is he going to have the stories to tell that his dad does?” Hinds-Aldrich said.

Grigsby’s alleged motivation is common, too, Hinds-Aldrich said. He allegedly told authorities he did it because he wanted to fight a fire.

The lure of the job of a volunteer firefighter certainly isn’t the pay – there is none. They train for hundreds of hours, then often go back to their small communities and do nothing.

“There’s a boredom element to it,” Hinds-Aldrich said.

Many offenders see their actions as helping the community. They believe they are providing chances to train, a chance for the firefighters to have some fun. They often target grasslands or derelict, empty buildings.

Lincoln County Fire Marshal Barry Nuss said there were no signs of trouble with Grigsby before his arrest.

“He was probably one of the last people you would’ve looked at for it,” Nuss said.

After years of failing to identify potential arsonists before they became firefighters, research these days has turned toward educating fire departments and breaking what some call a culture of silence inside firehouses.

“This has long been a taboo topic in the fire service,” Hinds-Aldrich added.

The AP issued a correction shortly after this story was published. In the initial story, the number of firefighters across the country who are arrested each year was listed as an estimated 1000 per year. That figure was incorrect. The correct estimate is 100 firefighters arrested per year. The story above has been corrected.

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