written by
Jaemin Frazer

The real reason RFS volunteers become arsonists

Overcoming insecurity 5 min read
Why firefighters commit arson

Two of the most recent studies say there are between 52,000 and 54,000 bushfires in Australia every year. Of those, 13% are started deliberately, and 37% are suspicious. That means 31,000 Australian bushfires are either arson, or suspected arson, every year.

Often the most staggering arson cases are the ones involving firefighters.

It is hard to comprehend that current fire crisis gripping Australia right now has been made worse by individuals given the responsibility of defending us against these very fires.

Yet, when you look beneath the surface to see what motivates such destructive behaviour, it becomes apparent that there is a way of understanding and therefore eradicating the problem.

Julain Morgan's article How a volunteer firefighter became a serial arsonist states; Thanks to research after Black Saturday, the criminal profile for bushfire arson is fairly well defined...We know arsonists are usually men at an average age of 26, with a disconcerting number volunteering with the country’s fire fighting agencies. They also tend to be disconnected from friends and family and live with depression or mental illness.

Arson is not a fire lighting problem, it is often an insecurity problem.

I spoke to a local RFS volunteer of more than 50 years about this. He said that it is not uncommon to be hugged and kissed by random strangers when wearing his uniform in fire season, such is the immense gratitude and respect our nation has for those who give up their time to defend life and property from the ravages of bushfires.

In the midst of this fire crisis, the RFS uniform instantly engenders unquestioning respect.

This facebook response is typical of the sentiment of so many in Australia right now.

Why firefighters commit arson

It is this incredible level of respect which creates an interesting attraction and possibly even an addiction for those who do not experience this respect in their normal experience of life.

I geek out at human behavioural science. Instead of believing that we are broken and that bad behaviour is evidence of this brokenness, I completely subscribe to Richard Bandler’s ground breaking idea that people work perfectly.

Bandler co-founded Neuro Linguistic Programming in the 1970’s. NLP allows us to let go of the idea that something is wrong with us, and step into the idea that we are already working perfectly  and that each perceived problem has a positive intention. 

Put more simply, the results, behaviour and emotion we experience are the exact things we have designed our system to produce.

This means we can explore the intention behind any behaviour no matter how horrible or destructive to understand what that behaviour is serving to achieve.

To understand this positive intention behind what appears to be very negative behaviour, Anthony Robbins 6 core needs model is incredibly insightful.

He states the 6 human needs are as follows:

1. Certainty – The need for control, safety and comfort.

2. Variety – The need for excitement, adventure and change.

3. Significance – The need to feel valuable, worthwhile and important.

4. Love – The need for connection, affirmation and acceptance.

5. Contribution – The need to make a difference and help others.

6. Growth – The need to explore, expand and achieve.

All behaviour is an attempt to meet one or more of these needs. What’s more, these needs override our values, and therefore cause people to do things that completely go against the way they know they should behave.

Now interestingly, lighting fires could actually be an attempt to meet almost all of these needs in some way, yet when it comes to arson, it can meet the need for significance in an incredibly powerful way.

Human's cannot survive without feeling that their life has value and meaning. Therefore this need for significance must met in one way, shape or form. It is one of the most powerful drivers of all the choices and actions we make. If we don’t have a high quality, internal way of validating our own existence, invariably we will look to unhealthy and external ways of filling our cup.

Back to the uniform…

Take a moment to imagine the man pictured above, in a footy jersey, blue singlet or flannel shirt instead yelling obscenities out his window. I promise you he instantly loses the respect that the yellow jacket gives him.

(I have no idea who this man really is. He’s probably a wonderful man and model citizen...Obviously the point I'm making has nothing to do with him.)

Continue to imagine an RFS volunteer who's normal experience of life is one of pain and suffering at the bottom of the social food chain. Imagine he or she constantly feels unloved, disrespected and undervalued by those around them. Imagine they fit the profile of being disconnected with friends and family and living with depression.

Now, all they need to do to go from the bottom of the pile to the top is to put one particular uniform on. With that uniform comes instant respect, love and appreciation.

And, all they need to do to put a uniform on is to have a reason.

If the reason does not already exist, there is one quick way to solve that problem.

All of a sudden there is a fire, then a uniform, then a purpose, then an elevated status, then a shot of significance that creates an experience of power and respect that affects every cell in their body like a drug.

Now they have a proven strategy to meet their need for significance in a way nothing else has ever matched.

A pattern of behaviour has just been created.

Now clearly in the vast majority of cases this is not what is driving RFS volunteers to risk their lives to serve our nation at their own expense. Most of those fighting fires right now are not at all motivated by what they get, but what they can give. These legends are not the ones lighting fires.

It is a deeply respected institution because of how genuinely selfless and heroic these people are.

But that’s entirely the point. Because the role is so well respected, that only strengthens the effectiveness of the significance strategy for those who normally have no way of replicating such universal love and respect.

It goes without saying that in no way does this justify the behaviour, but it does help us understand it.

In order to lessen the fire crisis, we need to solve the arson problem. In order to solve the arson problem, we must first solve the insecurity problem driving people looking to prove that they matter by what others think of them.

This is not just about the individual or the crime...this is about our nation and more importantly, the planet.

It is essential that all humans do the personal development work required to validate their own existence seperate to their role, relationships and what others think of them.

Insecurity left unaddressed leads to madness. It is just like an out of control fire.

I’m convinced that insecurity like any other problem can and must be solved.

Arson Overcoming insecurity bushfires arsonists firefighters RFS volunteer firefighters Personal Development