Click here for a printable version of this article.

February 2005: Incendiarism

Typically, we consider fire protection as a combination of adequate physical protection and implementation of loss control programs which in combination help to reduce the number of fires and minimize the extent of damage should a fire occur. While such measures protect against a wide variety of fire causes, rarely is incendiarism thought of as a key exposure.

Interestingly, according to a study conducted by Factory Mutual Research Corporation for the period 1983 through 1987, incendiarism was one of the leading causes of warehouse fires. Incendiarism accounted for 38% of the total number of fires - 27% of the dollar loss during the period under study. While the National Fire Protection Association has shown a frequency decrease in recent years the figure still exceeds 25% of the number of non residential fires, which accounts for over one third the dollar loss - roughly $2.7 Billion in direct property loss. More fires are set intentionally than are caused by smoking, hot work/welding activities, electrical fires or cooking and heating equipment.

Profile of an Incendiary

More intentionally set fires are for revenge or spite than for profit. Incendiaries are most often disgruntled or former employees with a grudge - real or imagined. So periods of layoffs, downsizing, and strikes are times for heightened awareness. These employees are likely to know critical areas of the facility to strike and have an easier time gaining access than a stranger (arsonist or burglar). Incendiaries tend to strike during non-working hours - consider raising the normal level of security when employee(s) morale is low. They tend to strike near electrical boxes in the hope that the fire will appear as an electrical malfunction. Statistics show that a failed attempt by an incendiary will likely be tried again if he is not apprehended, so be on the look out for unusual or unexplainable incidents that might not otherwise be considered as possible incendiarism.

Steps to Consider

When conditions hint at a higher than normal risk level,

think about supplementing burglar alarm systems with a guard service - even if only temporarily. Make sure exterior fences are in a good state of repair. Guard service rounds can be made more frequently - and do not forget to vary the tour path to avoid predictability. Add lighting outdoors and inside in those dark, inaccessible areas. Cameras can help guards keep track of inaccessible areas. Secure flammable materials, especially liquids (such as solvents) in fenced areas or locked rooms to keep them from being used as accelerants. Secure your automatic sprinkler system by locking normally open valves in that position - an incendiary will aim at voiding your fire protection systems to enhance his degree of success.

Do not be secretive about security. Keep your employees aware of improvements as part of your general training programs. This knowledge may help deter a potential incendiary.

If you would like an engineering analysis of hour security exposures and assistance with improvements, please contact us.

Acknowledgements

FMRC "Warehouse Occupancy: The Effects of Change" P8904

The U.S. Fire Problem Overview Report - NFPA, M. Ahrens, June 2003

Fire Loss in the United States During 2003 - NFPA, M. Karter, Jr., October 2004

Intentional Fires and Arson - NFPA, John R. Hall, Jr., May 2003