Judith S. Okulitch, MS
Judith S. Okulitch, M.S. has been the statewide coordinator for the Youth Fire Prevention and Intervention Program at the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal for over two decades. She started her prevention career in graduate school while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducting research on preventive mental health strategies with elementary school teachers. She went on to teach in the Communication and Management Depts. in colleges and universities in the United States and in Canada.
Her first experience in working with youth with firesetting behavior was in a residential treatment center in 1972. "I didn't realize at that time, I would dedicate over twenty years of my professional life to developing and administering a community based fire, burn and arson prevention program for youth. I focused the program on research, and the development of resources for the intervention of youth engaged in firesetting behavior and their families. Youth firesetting is a fascinating field of study because it intersects with so many disciplines: fire service, law enforcement, mental health, juvenile justice, schools, child welfare and burn hospitals. Networking with these groups on the state and national level has been an exciting life journey. The relationships and friendships I made with people who have a passion for working with kids who misuse fire has been my greatest joy, both personally and professionally."
Ms. Okulitch has been instrumental in leading a number of pioneering efforts in the field of youth firesetting. She collaborated with the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior at the University of Oregon on a research project resulting in a screening tool for fire professionals to use to identify the needs of youth misusing fire. This tool is used in Oregon and has been incorporated into fire department programs across the country, including a class at the National Fire Academy.
She directed the publication of Hot Issues, the first quarterly newsletter dealing specifically with the multi-disciplinary issues of youth misusing fire. Hot Issues was the first, and the longest running publication on the many facets of this dangerous behavior. Two bound volumes of Hot Issues reside in the library at the National Fire Academy which document the evolution of the field of youth firesetting intervention since 1990.
Ms. Okulitch has been a national leader serving on two committees that resulted in major changes on how fire and arson professionals are trained. She was a member of the team that wrote the first version of the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) certification standards for JFS Specialist. She was the project manager on the development of a curriculum to address the investigation of youth-set fires with the International Association of Arson Investigators. She presently serves on a task group for the International Association of Firefighters Burn Foundation focusing on the creation of a national database on youth-set fires.
With the support of retired Oregon State Fire Marshal Nancy Orr, she helped spearhead legislation in Oregon to ban toylike lighters; lectured nationally on the subject including at the 2008 ABA Conference in Chicago and at the Congressional Fire Service Institute in Washington, D.C and many other conferences and national meetings. Today, fourteen other states have joined Oregon in creating legislation to ban the selling of novelty lighters. Ms Okulitch was the recipient of a local and state award from the Consumer Product Safety Commission for creating awareness of the dangers of lighters to children.
Ms. Okulitch has been instrumental in serving schools with age appropriate fire education materials. She wrote the standard for fire prevention and fire survival included in the Health Education Standards adopted in Oregon. She coordinated the development of the first middle school prevention curriculum that used media to teach fire awareness and disaster preparedness. She has delivered professional training workshops for teachers in elementary schools on Oregon's fire awareness curriculum. She provided the leadership for a statewide campaign to report school fires and facilitated the development of a Guide to Evacuation Planning for Schools.
Ms. Okulitch conducts professional development training to fire departs., school districts, juvenile justice and mental health agencies on youth firesetting and fire safety awareness. She is a featured speaker at conferences across the nation on strategies of networking and coalition building. She is a contributing author to the publication, "Handbook on Firesetting in Children and Youth" by Dr. David Kolko (Academic Press, 2002). Ms. Okulitch serves on the Oregon Burn Center's Advisory Board, the Fire Safe Children and Families Board of Directors, on the Board of Bridgeway Recovery Services and on a Child Abuse Advisory Board.