Youth Firesetting Behavior and Autism: Awareness, Recognition, Action, and Education

  • Jerrod Brown
  • Don Porth
  • Bethany Hastings
  • Cheryl Arndt
  • Kathi Osmonson
  • Janina Cich
  • Deb Huntley


Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that includes communication, social, and behavioral challenges to varying degrees.  No causal relationship between individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and firesetting has been established.  Children are naturally curious about fire and that curiosity may be amplified in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This article highlights fire awareness issues related to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  When firesetting issues are identified, corrective action is recommended.  A variety of ways fire educators can improve the effectiveness of fire safety training are identified, including an explanation of the characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which provide a roadmap for successful education and intervention.


Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), fire, intervention, youth


Author Biographies

Jerrod Brown

Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS, is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways provide programs and services benefiting individuals impacted by mental illness and addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS), and the Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Scholars Today (FST). Jerrod holds graduate certificates in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Other Health Disabilities (OHD), and Traumatic-Brain Injuries (TBI). Jerrod is certified as a Youth Firesetter Prevention/Intervention Specialist, Thinking for a Change (T4C) Facilitator, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Trainer, and a Problem Gambling Treatment Provider. Jerrod is currently in the dissertation phase of his doctorate degree program in psychology. 

Don Porth
Don Porth holds a B.S. degree in Fire Command Administration. He began his career in the fire service in 1980 as a volunteer firefighter in a rural Oregon community. He became a full-time firefighter/EMT in 1983 and served 28 years in the uniformed fire service, with 27 years at Portland (Oregon) Fire & Rescue. The majority of the time was spent as a public education officer, providing public outreach and education on fire and life safety prevention issues. Within this, he specialized in youth firesetting behaviors and interventions. Don spent many hours conducting education and intervention services with program clients, and many additional hours providing awareness and recognition training to other professional disciplines with ties to firesetting behaviors (e.g. child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, burn treatment, schools, law enforcement, etc.). Don served on various committees and organizations related to youth firesetting behaviors, including 21 years as President of SOS FIRES: Youth Intervention Programs, a nonprofit specializing in support for firesetting intervention programs. Don has spoken at dozens of professional conferences on topics related to youth firesetting. He has also published many articles in professional journals and for the SOS FIRES website. Don now works as a consultant on fire and life safety issues and has participated on the executive team of an effort known as YFIRES (Youth Firesetting Information Repository and Evaluation System), which has created and will manage a national data system for youth firesetting behaviors. 
Bethany Hastings
Bethany Hastings, MA, AT, is a Lead Therapist and the art therapist at the Lazarus Project, Plymouth, MN, working with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has her master’s degree in Adlerian Psychology with a duel degree in Art Therapy (AT) and License Professional Counseling (LPC). Currently, Bethany is working towards LPC licensure and obtaining a board certification in AT.
Cheryl Arndt
Cheryl Arndt, Ph.D., is a research psychologist and the Director of Performance Improvement for KidsPeace--a national provider of children’s mental health and juvenile justice services. Dr. Arndt is widely experienced in program development, management, and evaluation, and in qualitative and quantitative research. Current research interests include clinical outcomes measures (including for clients who have sexually offended) and prevention of child maltreatment.  Dr. Arndt has been a peer reviewer for Psychology of Women Quarterly since 2012.  She is Co-Chair of the Outcomes Work Group for a statewide children’s mental provider association in Pennsylvania and serves on the boards of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice and the Section on Child Maltreatment.
Kathi Osmonson

Deputy State Fire Marshal Kathi Osmonson, BA coordinates the Minnesota Youth Fire Intervention Team.  She partners with law enforcement, mental health, and juvenile justice and social service agencies to sustain a network of professionals who collaborate to provide youth fire intervention.  Her career includes volunteer and career firefighting with specialties in fire prevention education and youth firesetting intervention.  She is a member of the NFPA 1035 Committee and the Minnesota Juvenile Justice Coalition (JJC), an adjunct instructor for the FEMA National Fire Academy, stakeholder in the Youth Fire Intervention Repository and Evaluation System (YFIRES), and presents at national and international conferences. Osmonson developed the YFPI Specialist and Program Manager Certifications through the Minnesota Fire Service Certification Board.  Kathi is currently pursuing her master’s degree in forensic mental health at Concordia University. 

Janina Cich
Janina Cich, MA, is a retired Law Enforcement Officer with two decades of Criminal Justice experience, specializing in Crime Scene Processing; Domestic Abuse Response, Crisis Intervention Certified Trainer, and Emergency Medical Technician.  She is an Adjunct Criminal Justice and Human Services with an emphasis in Forensic Mental Health Professor and lecturer.  She is the Chief Operating Officer of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS). She has co-authored several Forensic Mental Health articles, and is a Board Member of the Midwest Alliance on Shaken Baby Syndrome (MASBS).
Deb Huntley
Deb Huntley, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and teaches undergraduate psychology in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department at Concordia University, St. Paul. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston, with a concentration in Child and Family Psychology.  Dr. Huntley has been in academics for more than twenty years and has published and presented at regional and national conferences.  She has taught a wide range of courses but has particular interest in clinical psychology, child development, counseling theories, psychopathology, family systems, and research (especially in the area of family issues and child psychopathology). She is currently a member of the editorial review board for The Family Journal, Forensic Scholars Today, and The Journal of Special Populations.