TAPP-C "The Arson Prevention Program for Children"

The Arson Prevention Program for Children (TAPP-C) is an Ontario program that brings together fire services and counseling professionals to help families deal effectively with children and teens involved in fire-play. The fire service professionals educate children and their families about fire and how to develop good fire safety practices. Counseling professionals assess the risk of continued fire involvement and help children and their families deal with problems that may contribute to the firesetting. Designed to promote/foster attitudes and behaviours that will result in good fire safety practices and improve understanding of the problem of child and adolescent fire setting, TAPP-C is free-of-charge and is available to children from 2 to 17 years of age.

For most children, fireplay is the result of a normal curiosity about fire. They do not understand or know how to handle fire properly. For some, however, fireplay is a symptom of other problems. This program will help to determine why a particular child is involved in pre-setting and depending upon the assessment, provide for the appropriate treatment and follow-up.

Once a child has been identified as having set a fire or is caught repeatedly playing with lighters or matches, he/she is assessed by a mental health professional and is determined to be a low or high risk for future fire setting. Children assessed to pose a low risk will receive fire safety education from the fire services, while high risk children will receive both fire safety education and further treatment to prevent this dangerous behaviour.

The fire services usually finds out about a young fire setter from the child's parent or care giver. In most cases, the child has been caught playing with matches or lighters many times and the care giver is not able to stop this behaviour. The fire services refers the parent to the TAPP-C program and arranges to do a home safety check as soon as possible. This safety check is to protect the home and family from the young fire setter. The fire department ensures that the home has a working smoke alarm and a fire escape plan and that matches and lighters are kept out of sight and reach of children.

The project will develop an assessment method to determine which young fire setters are showing only normal curiosity about fire, and which ones may have an underlying mental health problem, of which setting fires is a symptom. All children will receive education about fire safety and, depending on the assessment findings, some will be referred for therapy by mental health professionals.

The objectives of the TAPP-C Program is:


  • To help reduce the number of fires, injuries and loss of life and property that is caused by youth fire setters.
  • Through the assessment, the program will be able to distinguish between Firesetters who exhibit a normal curiosity about fire and those who may have a serious mental health problem of which setting fires is a symptom.
  • To use education as the number one tool to help reduce youth firesetting.
  • To ensure that all children in the program receive fire safety education.

The facts about fire play:

If your child is involved in fire-play or firesetting you are not alone. Many children have a fascination with fire. It is important to understand that while curiosity about fire is natural, fire-play can be dangerous. In fact, fire is a leading cause of death among children in the home. Unfortunately, many youngsters start the very fires that injure themselves or others.

What is fire-play?

Fire-play can be many things:

  • Playing with matches or lighters
  • Playing with the toaster, stove or furnace
  • Burning items such as toys, paper or garbage
  • Setting a fire to destroy something or hurt someone

Things to watch for:

If you notice any of the following, your child may be involved in fire-play:

  • Matches or lighters go missing
  • Matches or lighters are found among your child’s belongings
  • There are burn marks on household items or your child’s clothing or possessions
  • Your child is extremely interested in fire

Juvenile Fire Setters 

There are four distinct types of fire setters:


The majority of these are between two and seven years old. They imitate adults who light cigarettes and candles. It is normal for them to be interested in fire, but they must be taught how destructive it can be.


These are generally children crying out for help. Many of these children have problems at school and could also be trying to cope with domestic abuse. Setting fires is a way for them to deal with their anger. Troubled children tend to:

  • play alone,
  • be very shy,
  • wet their beds,
  • stutter,
  • be incapable of forming close relationships,
  • fight impulsively with siblings or peers,
  • suffer from extreme mood swings, and
  • act aggressively by hurting themselves or destroying their toys

These are young teenagers with a history of pyromania. They target abandoned buildings, open fields and schools. The fires can be large and very destructive. Experts say that delinquent fire setters have a history of lying, theft, truancy and possible substance abuse.

Severely Disturbed:

A very small percentage of fire setters is severely disturbed. Age is not an issue. Most severely disturbed fire setters are in mental or correctional institutions.