National Arson Awareness Week is May 6-12, 2018

– This year’s theme for National Arson Awareness Week (May 6-12, 2018) is reducing arson in vacant and abandoned buildings. State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “Massachusetts has been a leader on this topic since losing six firefighters in the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire.” There has been increased awareness of the dangers of abandoned and vacant buildings. This heightened awareness led to pre-incident planning including increased inspections, stricter adherence to building and fire codes along with tighter security around these buildings, more frequent patrols of areas where these buildings are located, tougher fines for owner who fail to keep vacant buildings secured, and the taking of these properties by the municipality through a variety of means.

Marking Vacant Buildings for Fire Suppression
It also led to many changes in firefighting practices, deciding whether to use an offensive attack placing firefighters inside the building or a defense strategy setting up master stream devices and fighting the fire from outside. The City of Worcester took the lead on marking vacant and abandoned buildings as to whether or not it was safe to conduct interior firefighting operations. The city ordinance was soon incorporated into both the State Fire Code and the State Building Code. Buildings with a red x indicate exterior fire suppression only is recommended, Buildings with a red line (half the x) indicate that interior hazards exist and interior fire suppression should be conducted with extreme caution.

Proper Board-Up Procedures
In addition to marking vacant and abandoned buildings, the State Fire and Building Codes require effective boarding up of these buildings using what is commonly referred to as the “HUD method.” It was developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1960s to protect neighborhoods and keep people out of vacant buildings. The U.S. Fire Administration has been promoting these procedures for decades as effective arson prevention measures.

If an owner fails to properly secure a building, the building official can secure the building and place a lien on the property. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office has an Abandoned Housing Initiative, where they work with municipalities to gain code compliance from owners or appoint a receiver to manage the property and correct code violations.

Urban Mining
Vacant and abandoned buildings are subject to “urban mining” where people illegally remove copper pipe and wiring often using cutting torches. This often leads to fires.

Neighborhood Crime Watch Techniques Work for Vacant Buildings
If a community has a building of concern, they can work with local police to use tried and true neighborhood crime watch techniques to keep an eye on vacant or abandoned buildings. In addition to working with the municipality to make sure such buildings are properly boarded up, neighbors can make sure they stay effectively boarded up and report any suspicious activity in or around them. A fire in a vacant building has the ability to grow undetected quickly especially if there is no fire alarm or fire sprinkler system installed and working. Such fires can easily threaten neighboring properties. Read our Arson and Fire Prevention: Neighborhood Strategies pamphlet in English and Spanish online at

Fighting Arson Fires in Vacant Buildings Dangerous to Firefighters
“Fighting arson fires in vacant and abandoned buildings are extremely dangerous for firefighters,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. One firefighter is injured at every 40 structure fires; one firefighter is injured at every 11 structure arsons; but one firefighter is injured at every 4 vacant building arson fires, according to the Mass. Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS).

In Massachusetts over the past ten years (2008-2017) there have been 377 arson fires in vacant buildings which caused 79 fire service injuries, two civilian injuries, one death, and $20 million in damages.

National Arson Awareness Week
For more information about National Arson Awareness Week, go to the U.S. Fire Administration website at
Media release furnished by Mass Department of Fire Services
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Hyannis, MA 02601
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