Much of what we know about the professional hired torch and the pyromaniac has been gleaned through television enactments, myths, and gossip. The true torch and pyromaniac may bear little or no resemblance to how most of us view them. To dispel these myths, let’s study the personality traits of each. This comparative analysis comes from John G. Gunderson’s “Management of Manic States: The Problem of Firesetting” (Psychology’, May 1974) and Bernard Levin’s “Psychological Characteristics of Firesetters” (Fire Journal, March 1976).

The Pyromaniac

Age: The majority are 16—28, with the highest frequency at 17.

Sex: Male.

Race: Predominantly white.

Physical defects: Frequently present.

Intelligence: Mentally defective to genius with onefourth at the low end.

Personality: Misfit, feeble, lonely, aloof, a physical coward, feelings of inadequacy, self-consciousness, inferiority, introverted, reclusive, frustrated, defensive, obstinate, ashamed, and apologetic. Lacks remorse, a sense of responsibility and self-worth, self-esteem, pride, ambition, aggressiveness, and prestige. Feels unwanted, unloved, and that defenses will fail and repressed impulses will emerge. Psychopathic, with neurotic obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Enuresis (Incontinence): Present in some.

Sexual adjustment: Maladjusted, inadequate, and little contact with women.

Social class: From low, middle, and upper classes.

Use of alcohol: Common (approximately 16 percent are alcoholic).

Social adjustment: Maladjusted, with developmental and interpersonal problems; often nocturnal. Occupation/employment: Often an unskilled laborer, if employed. Becomes resentful of subservient and demeaning jobs.

Criminal history: Delinquency, burglary, theft, and other property offenses.

The Professional Hired Torch Age: From the late 20s to midto late 60s. Generally concentrated from the early 30s to mid-50s. “Burnout” is typical between 45 and 50.

Sex: Male.

Race: Predominandy white but varies with area of country and location of arson activity.

Physical defects: Not typical.

Intelligence: Average to above average.

Personality: Psychopathic, egocentric, manipulative, exploitative, deceitful, impulsive. Schemer and con artist with a propensity for high living. Lacks anxiety, remorse, and guilt. Exhibits a pathological sense of self-confidence.

Enuresis: (incontinence): Rarely present.

Sexual adjustment: Single, separated, or divorced. Unstable due to personality and impulsive lifestyle.

Social class: Most often from middle classes but prone to be heavily in debt or financially overextended.

Use of alcohol: Common, frequendy heavy social drinkers.

Social adjustment: Impulsive, erratic, often nocturnal and nomadic, high risk and excitement seeker, antisocial. Occupation/employment: Frequently employed by others in positions from unskilled laborer to professional business person. Likely to be financially marginal if selfemployed.

Criminal history: May have been suspected of crimes from fraud to homicide; arrested for crimes with no convictions, 1 or 2 convictions and suspected of others.

Rearing environment: Pathological, broken, harsh, unhappy, with inconsistent discipline and parental neglect. Suicide: Often attempted after incarceration and arrest. Firesetting motives: Be the hero or center of attention, play detective, render first aid, help rescue victims, assist firefighters, crave excitement and prestige, direct the operations, and try to outwit firefighters. Irresistible impulse, revenge, sexual satisfaction, and the enjoyment of destruction. Expresses relief at being caught.

Type of firesetting: Solitary.

Behavior prior to firesetting: Expresses feelings of anxiety, resdessness, headaches, palpitations, dizziness, pressure in the head, ringing in the ears, extreme tension, uncontrollable and irresistible urges to set fires, and feelings of unreality.

Behavior at firesetting: Feelings of other-worldliness, not being in control of actions. Appears normal and controlled though cannot prevent actions.

Behavior after firesetting: Feelings of relief, exaltation, reduced stress. Few expressed sexual gratification. Experienced restful sleep after assuring firefighter’s response. Other factors: Typically sets numerous fires hastily, in rapid succession, with available materials at randomly selected targets with no regard for life. Sets numerous false alarms and readily confessed or admits guilt without feelings of remorse.

Rearing environment: Abnormalities not noted.

Suicide: None noted.

Firesetting motives: Rationally motivated by economic incentives, premeditated and carefully planned to avoid detection.

Type of firesetting: If an independent, will usually work alone. May be part of a loose-knit, affiliated or structured group, working with other arsonists.

Behavior prior to firesetting: Often prepares site days in advance to ensure proper burn.

Behavior at firesetting: Very little time spent inside structure during firesetting. Fires timed to allow escape.

Behavior after firesetting: Commonly departs immediately to establish an alibi.

Other factors: Other abnormalities not noted.

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