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University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center's Straight Talk
Youth Fire Prevention and Intervention Program

Straight Talk is a family-oriented program targeting youth who exhibit behaviors associated with the misuse of fire (playing with matches or lighters, using accelerants, firesetting, fireworks, bottle bombs, arson, etc.). It is also for youth who have observed others playing with fire or who are at risk for experimentation.

Research-based methods and a multidisciplinary approach are used to address the myriad of factors contributing to the complex issue of firesetting behavior. Firefighters, arson police, social workers, injury prevention nurses, occupational therapists, lab personnel, and burn survivors discuss the medical, social, legal, future/career, and financial consequences associated with the misuse of fire. Parent (or legal guardian) participation is a mandatory, essential component of the program.

Straight Talk employs principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing as fundamental methods to promote behavior change. The comprehensive curriculum emphasizes individual accountability, responsibility, good decisionmaking, and problem-solving skills to positively redirect at-risk youth. Identification and treatment of mental health issues that may be contributing to a child's high-risk behavior is a priority focus. Youth/Families receive interactive education and techniques to promote a safe home environment and prevent injuries. Straight Talk is a Statewide and regional resource that is provided to families for free.

Straight Talk is proven as a highly effective youth firesetting intervention program. Published in the medical literature Journal of Trauma, results from our prospective research study demonstrated the recidivism rate for Straight Talk participants was 0.8 percent (less than 1 percent) versus 36 percent in the matched cohort group who did not attend the program.

Ongoing, active collaboration and partnerships with multiple fire service and community agencies has been key to Straight Talk's lasting success. Since the initial program development and launch with Bloomfield Township Fire Department in 1999, numerous municipal fire departments have assisted in teaching the program, updating curriculum content, and providing supplemental comprehensive family intervention in the community. Straight Talk is widely used and endorsed by fire departments, juvenile courts, police departments, schools, Michigan Fire Inspectors Society, Michigan Arson Prevention Committee, parents, youth assistance, and other social service and community agencies.

Two unique educational intervention tools were developed by Straight Talk's multidisciplinary team of experts to expand prevention efforts to a larger target audience. Both of these nationally-acclaimed resources are available to youth fire prevention and intervention programs throughout the United States:

  1. "In An Instant:" A multiple award-winning educational documentary video that effectively demonstrates the medical and social consequences associated with misuse of fire by sharing the journey of youth and their families during burn treatment and recovery.
  2. "Sean's Story:" Sean, a convicted juvenile arsonist, shares his story so viewers can witness firsthand the lifelong negative impact that firesetting can have on youth/parents' reputation, education, career, family relationships, finances, incarceration, and injury to self and others. Experts from law enforcement, juvenile court, and health care provide insight into fire-misuse behavior and consequences that youth and their parents typically do not consider. Youth who misuse fire can be helped by early intervention. This is a poignant film that explicitly demonstrates the long-term consequences that can occur if fire-misuse behavior is left untreated. The NFA has selectively chosen to incorporate the video in the newly updated national NFA/FEMA Youth Firesetting Prevention and Intervention curriculum. FEMA has also provided grant funding to distribute "Sean's Story" nationwide as a firesetting intervention and prevention resource toolkit for fire departments, agencies, injury prevention programs, and schools.