Funding for a program to provide “interventions” that keep young people away from fires was approved Tuesday, June 7 by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
In a 5-0 vote, the board signed a $358,000 contract with Oceanside’s “fire profiler” Laura Billon, a senior educator in the Fire Technology department at Miramar College in San Diego. . The agreement requires him to establish a youth fire response program.
“In Riverside County, we need to provide interventions for youth and families,” county fire spokesperson Jody Hagemann told the council. “We want to make sure young people and their families have a way to get help. It’s about prevention through education from the start.
Fire Chief Bill Weiser expressed support for the proposal, saying it was largely aimed at preventing children “from starting fires around homes”.
“For a long time we didn’t have the capacity to deal with this problem,” he said. “It was often quite frustrating.”
Hagemann advocated a county-wide program after taking classes taught by Billon, who developed such programs for the Honolulu Fire Department and the Emergency Management Department of Duchess County, New York, according to documents published on the board’s agenda.
“A lot of these young people showed a story (of starting the fire),” council chairman Jeff Hewitt said. “These red flags are going off. Children can buy a book of matches and a lighter anywhere. This (programme) aims to change mentalities.
Supervisor Karen Spiegel said she became a fan of the response programs after seeing the one put in place by the Corona Fire Department.
“So many people and young people have been helped to change their behavior,” she said.
Under the new contract, which will run until March 2024, Billon will implement a program containing “risk assessment tools to identify at-risk youth,” as well as develop policies, procedures and protocols for dealing with situations where minors expose fire-prone addictions.
“This program will focus on providing outreach and education materials to minors and their parents or guardians…as an opportunity for families to work with the Riverside County Fire Department, partner agencies and parties stakeholders to address concerns about their children and fire behavior,” according to an agency statement posted on the council agenda.
The $358,000 is a not-to-exceed amount and comes from a state grant, not the county’s general fund.