What drives arsonists? Edmonton criminologist offers insight

Edmonton Criminologist Bill Pitt describes what drives arsonists to commit crimes. Global News

EDMONTON – It may be more common than you think for a firefighter to be accused of arson says Edmonton criminologist Bill Pitt.

“We actually see this quite often with firefighters,” Pitt said. “It’s not uncommon in the firefighting fraternity, especially with the rural firefighters, but not exclusively… I’m not surprised by it.”

Pitt spoke with Global News on Sunday, one day after a volunteer firefighter in Mayerthorpe was arrested and charged with 18 counts of arson.

READ MORE: ‘We didn’t see it coming:’ Mayerthorpe Fire Chief on member charged with arson 

Without referencing the Mayerthorpe case specifically, Pitt said there are typically three main motives behind arsons.


Some people find pleasure in setting and/or watching a fire burn, said Pitt, who described it as a “psycho-sexual component.”

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In such cases, investigators will often examine the individual’s past, looking for other troubling behaviour, including animal abuse.

Conflict in department

“Sometimes it’s a beef in the [fire] department,” Pitt said.“They don’t like something that’s going on in the department or they feel they’ve been passed over by the department or they’ve got some kind of personal conflict with somebody there.”

Hero complex

”They want to be the one that discovers who did this. So there’s a little bit of self promotion that can occur: ‘I’m going to be the first one who calls it in. I’m going to show everyone how much initiative I have, how smart I am.’”

Pitt said he’s sad to see another heartbreaking event in Mayerthorpe. “It’s a hard-luck town and they really don’t need this sort of thing going on in the background.”

“Of course we all know what happened with the Mounted Police there,” he added, referring to March 3, 2005, when James Roszko shot and killed four RCMP constables while they were executing a search warrant on a farm outside the town. “It’s a town that needs to heal, and it’s going to take a generation or two to heal and something like this doesn’t help that process.”

“It was a quick resolution, and the police did a good job.”


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