Ways to avoid arson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Stopping in Lawrence County to promote Arson Awareness Week, the State Fire Marshal's office also unveiled the department's new Major Incident Response Vehicle.

Despite a steady downpour Monday, representatives from the department showed off the vehicle at Pic 'N Save in Ironton before talking about arson prevention.

The MIRV is a modified fire truck that can be used as a communications command base by local fire departments for major situations that include natural disasters, large fires, terrorists attacks, rescue operations and more.

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The vehicle can connect up to 14 different communications systems including cell phones, amateur radios and all rescue workers' systems so everyone from a variety of agencies can stay in contact regardless of the types of radios or phones they use.

"Let's face reality, if you cannot communicate, you are in trouble," Assistant Fire Marshall Keith Loreno said as he showed off the communications base. "This vehicle gives us most of the equipment we would need initially on a scene."

Large enough to accommodate several people, it is equipped with UHF, VHF, amateur radios, computers, the Internet, lights, generators, power saws, air packs, a TV, VCR, medical supplies, a fax machine, a weather station and more.

If requested by a local agency, the vehicle would be provided by the Marshal's office, but the situation would remain under the jurisdiction of the requesting agency. Windows provide a 360-degree view to help field operators coordinate the situation, Loreno said.

Currently one of only a few in the state, it would cost more than $500,000 to replace the vehicle and the equipment, Loreno said.

With 16 fire departments in the county and 15 of those being volunteer, "we depend on our big bothers for all the help we can get," Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon said.

"We have had situations where that type of vehicle would be appreciated," he said. "Communication is one of the biggest problems on any incident. We have problems with the fire department communicating with each other but is also difficult for other agencies to communicate."

While the marshals were in town, Chief Thomas Huston of the fire and explosion investigations department talked about the seriousness of arson across the state and how the fire marshals investigate the crime.

"The goal of Arson Awareness Week is to educate the public," Huston said. "I think sometimes the public thinks that the insurance companies are paying for it. In reality, everyone pays by suffering increased insurance costs."

The fire marshal's office is here to assist the 1,200 fire departments in the state and 900 of those are only volunteer or partly paid, Huston said.

In Ohio, there were 60,689 fires in 2001 resulting in $397 million in losses, 1,338 injuries and 163 deaths, he said.

Approximately 7,000 of these fires are classified as suspicious or arson related and resulted in $64 million in losses, 87 civilian injuries, 13 fatalities and 153 firefighters injured, Huston said.

The primary motive for arson is revenge or spite resulting from domestic cases. Other motives include pyromania - the uncontrollable impulse to start fires, crime concealment, insurance fraud, civil disorder or vanity fires that are started because someone wants to gain some recognition for their role in stopping fires, he said.

Because arson is considered a crime of opportunity, Huston said it is important that people remove all combustible materials from near their homes, keep areas well-lit, do not store ignitable material in sight, take keys from former employees and keep a watch on the rest of the neighborhood.

"We want people to protect themselves against arsonists," Huston said. "Fires kill innocent people, kids and families. Following the safety tips goes a long ways."

Chief Runyon said arson is a bigger problem in southern Ohio than many people would realize.

"It is a growing problem with today's economy," he said. "There has to be something done to slow it down."

Although not a major problem in the city at this time, arson is something the department has to deal with, Runyon said. Approximately 30 of the fires in Ironton last year were classified as arson or of suspicious causes, many of these started by juveniles.

"The main thing is that stopping arson is not only a job of the fire departments and the state of Ohio, but a job of all the citizens in an area. It takes all our input in reporting and understanding this crime. We all have to work together."