Kids in trouble for fire crimes get second chance

REDDING, Calif. - Fifteen-year-old Tristan Dahlen said he was just bored when he decided to light a mailbox on fire with his friend.

"At the time we didn't think about it," said Dahlen. "It was just fun, I guess."

After it was posted to Instagram, the police learned about the crime, ready to give Dahlen an arson charge on his record.

"Of course it was mistake," Dahlen recollected. "It was dumb. It was stupidity. I wasn't thinking right."

Dahlen had two options: face possible time in juvenile hall, or go to a new program called Youth FireSetter Prevention and Intervention at the Fire Academy of Shasta College, and complete a two day training. The first day of training happened May 7th. The second one is May 14th.

The program is sponsored by the Redding Fire Department, CAL FIRE, and other fire agencies around Shasta County.

"I'm more than thankful for this program," said Dahlen.

The training involves minors as young as 5-years-old, who have gotten in trouble for fire related crimes.

The younger kids learn about fire safety tips while the older ones learn about what happens when juveniles break the law. Officers passed around handcuffs and informed students of exactly what happens when they are in police custody.

"It was scary," said Dahlen. "It's a lot to take in."

Patrick O'Connor is one of the organizers of this program and a Fire Inspector for the Redding Fire Dept.

"Statistically, 50% of all set fires are done by juveniles," said O'Connor. "Kids are curious. You get more out of education and showing them the dangers of fire than simply prosecuting a crime."

O'Connor said he hopes it will teach kids that fire is not a toy.

"We celebrate birthdays with fire, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fire, it's almost an accepted practice to play with it," he added. "We're basically here to address some good kids who made some bad decisions."

Dahlen added, it taught him a lot and he will try to stay out of trouble with the law.

"I've learned that just a single flame can lead to a whole forest, a whole building, a whole mansion being burnt down," he said. "Just a single flame."

If you want to know more about this program contact the Redding Fire Department.

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