It was not how Grosse Pointe mother of four Kathleen Ninivaggi imagined her family’s spring break trip ending this year: Her 14-year-old son banging on her bedroom door to tell her their beach-side, South Carolina rental home was on fire.
The source of the flames that ultimately razed the seven-bedroom house on Myrtle Beach didn’t seem so malicious: Pinky-sized firecrackers Ninivaggi’s teenage children had bought at a nearby fireworks stand, unbeknownst to her.
The whole family escaped the fire unharmed. But back home in Michigan, Ninivaggi enrolled all of her children – ages 14,15,16 and 17 – in the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center’s free Straight Talk program so they could understand how close they came to a much grimmer scenario.
The 13-year-old program was selected as one of only eight exemplary youth fire-setting prevention and intervention programs to be highlighted by the United States Fire Administration for this year’s Arson Awareness Week May 6-12. The issue of juvenile fire play is especially pressing as Michigan approaches its first Fourth of July following the legalization of fireworks.
Straight Talk targets youth ages 8-17 who exhibit behaviors associated with the misuse of fire – including playing with matches, lighters or fireworks, fire-setting, or arson – and those who may simply be curious about experimenting with fire. It is believed to be the only hospital-based program of its kind in the country.