- Department of Fire Services
Media Contact for Preventing Arson at Houses of Worship
Jennifer Mieth, Public Information Officer
STOW — Investigators from the Arlington and Needham Fire and Police Departments, State Police from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Massachusetts State Police Fusion Center are working together to investigate two arson fires at a residence/synagogue in Arlington and one at a Needham synagogue. The first Arlington fire occurred on May 11, 2019, and a second fire was set at the same location last night. In Needham last night, there was also an intentionally set fire at a synagogue. The investigative team is bringing all necessary resources to these fires, which may or may not be connected.
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “Every arson fire causes fear and anxiety in the community, but one in a house of worship especially so.” He added, “There are steps that houses of worship can take to protect themselves from both accidental and intentionally-set fires.”
Preventing Arson at Houses of Worship
Preventing arson at houses of worship covers three main areas: external security, internal security, and community awareness. Here are some steps the public can take:
- Install video surveillance cameras. Monitor often to make sure they work.
- Illuminate the exterior and entrances. (Use shielded fixtures with warm light bulbs of Correlated Color Temperature - CCT- of 3,000K or less. Avoid bright white or blue lights for better visibility.)
- Use motion-activated lighting near doors and windows.
- Keep shrubbery and trees trimmed so the building can be observed by passing patrols.
- Do not allow church signs to block the view of the building.
- Many buildings have basement entries that are hidden from view. Secure them with locking, ground level doors when the building is not in use.
- Secure ladders, external stairways, and fire escapes allowing access to the roof.
- Painting the building white or constructing it with light-colored brick makes a human figure more readily seen at night.
- Consider fencing the areas or sides that are not readily visible to patrols or neighbors.
- Install smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system.
- Keep doors and windows locked.
- Clean up – Remove anything that could fuel a fire for an arsonist.
- Establish an arson watch program. For information on how, download the U.S. fire Administration’s Community Arson Prevention pamphlet.
- Use the U.S. Fire Administration’s brochure to spread the word about arson prevention.
- Keep congregation leaders informed of problems.
- Be aware of individuals who may be disgruntled or likely to cause damage to property through arson or vandalism.
- Be aware that vandalism may precede arson.
- Open avenues of communication with fire and law enforcement officials regarding the arson problem places of worship are facing.
- Appoint a person from the congregation to be a liaison with law and fire officials.
- Promote neighborhood watches and educate the neighbors with the lighting arrangements (motion lights, etc.).
- Educate neighbors on recognizing unusual activities.
- Encourage neighbors to make note of strangers spending time in the neighborhood, either on foot or in vehicles.
- Write down the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles and inform the proper authorities.
- Do not advertise on signs or bulletins when the place of worship will not be in use.
Reverend James Tilbe, chief chaplain of the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains said, “There is no arson fire that tears at the fabric of a community more than one involving a house of worship. These are sacred spaces where people connect to their God and to each other.”
There have been 21 arson fires in houses of worship over the past decade (2009-2018) in Massachusetts. Targets have included Jewish synagogues, Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches.