A project which sees firefighters going back to school one day a week has been hailed a huge success in reducing fires in South Yorkshire.
Firefighters have been going into two Barnsley schools one day a week for an entire academic year to work with children in areas known as arson hotspots.
It has been trialled in Shafton and Dearne Advanced Learning Centres, with the aim of using firefighters who live and work in the local communities as positive role models for pupils, in a bid to deter them from starting fires.
Fire chiefs who have analysed reports of arson attacks in the area said the number has dropped since the scheme was introduced.
In Shafton, the fire service used to attend 17 deliberate, small fires each month on average.
Since the scheme was introduced, that number has dropped to seven.
In Dearne, there were 10 small arsons per month, but that has now dropped to just two.
Arson Reduction Officer Simon Brookes, said: “This initiative genuinely benefits everyone.
“The school gets worthwhile learning support from a trusted, professional member of the local community , pupils get advice from someone they look up to and respect, while we see a reduction in the number of unnecessary fires we get called to respond to.
“We’ve proven that this scheme can benefit young people and reduce fires, so we’re really keen for more schools in the area to use us in this way.”
He warned firebugs that arson attacks can cost lives - not only putting arsonists at risk themselves but innocent members of the public.
“Eighty per cent of fires we attend are arson related,” he said.
“Arson can be life threatening because we can’t be in two places at once - if we are attending an unnecessary fire such as a skip, grass or bin fire then it could delay us in getting to a life threatening incident.
“With temperatures in a house fire able to reach 1,000 degrees just being trapped five minutes more can make a huge difference.
“Those starting fires need to think about the consequences.”
The scheme is funded jointly by the fire service and each participating school and fire chiefs now want more schools to take part.
Small, deliberate fires are estimated to cost the taxpayer up to £2,500 each to deal with.
The reductions in fires delivered by the new scheme are estimated to have saved around £500,000 so far.