CFA’s Gippsland office knows that the stream of holidaymakers that flock to the coast each summer are a vulnerable group.
Attracted to the bush and the ocean, they often don’t know the area they’re spending their holidays in or the area’s fire risk and are not prepared for a bushfire.
Nicole Cooper-Warneke, a community education coordinator for the region, says: “We were trying to think of some new and innovative ways to reach holidaymakers, visitors and travellers in our high-risk areas, and we came up with this idea of going into caravan parks with buckets of information.
“The idea behind using the buckets was to ensure the message cut through,” she says. “Buckets are very practical to have on hand when you’re on holidays and they’re much more likely to be kept around longer than the traditional carry bags with information that we use.
“We wanted to deliver a Fire Ready message to people without taking much time away from their holiday. We knew that people wouldn’t turn up for a traditional Fire Ready meeting so we had to find another way to reach them.”
During January two presenters visited caravan parks in Gippsland, from Mallacoota and Cann River to Bemm River, Marlo and Cape Conran to Loch Sport in the west.
The idea behind the buckets was for presenters in the field to use them as an engagement tool to talk to people. Information in the buckets included Fire Danger Ratings and the Township Protection Plan for the area with details about where to find the town’s neighbourhood safer place if a fire broke out.
“We want them to be safe while they’re on holiday and give them a few key messages: what does a Fire Danger Rating mean, what can you do on a fire ban day, get off the roads if there’s a fire, leave early instead of going for a hike on a Code Red day ... we wanted to give them some knowledge of the local area and some of that information,” Nicole says.
Two presenters went out each weekend over the summer, often with local brigade members who turned up to the caravan parks with a fire truck. Children were entertained by the brigade members while the presenters talked to the adults.
“At Cape Conran the caravan park owner and the local brigade were extremely enthusiastic about the idea and we put on a bacon and egg muffin breakfast at the park, which coincided with an art activity that was happening an hour later for the children,” Nicole says. “About 40 people turned up for that. We tried to piggyback off any activities the caravan parks were running so they could slot us into their activities calendar.
“One of the lovely things that happened was that groups of people would naturally come together and ask questions so one of our presenters, Robbie, did a Fire Ready meeting with nine or 10 people in the laundry at one of the caravan parks.
“We had two or three instances where that occurred. Down near the jetty the fisherman were putting their boats in and standing around having a chat and that became a Fire Ready meeting.”
About half the campsites they contacted were enthusiastic.
“I think those that weren’t didn’t understand what we were actually doing and thought we were coming along to check their fire plans were in order and point the finger saying have you done this, have you done that,” she says. “The next time we communicate with the parks they’ll be a lot more receptive.
“But at the same time we have also had interest from parks that had heard about the activities taking place so they’re ringing us saying, ‘Why didn’t you come to us? We’d like to be involved next time’. Now that they’ve heard all this positive stuff about us they’re keen to get on board.
“Brigades have called us up saying, ‘We love this initiative, can you get buckets to us? Can we help next time?’”
A sticker on each bucket showed the frequencies for local ABC radio stations and broadcasters ran a few stories about the events.
“We promoted the events on the radio, we had fliers around the parks, we had brigade members talking to people about it,” she says. “We tried to get as many people as possible involved and aware of it so that the word spread around that if people were looking for information they could come and chat to somebody.
“A lot of the parks actually had a tie in some way to the brigade, whether they were a volunteer or they knew the captain or they knew someone in the brigade, so they trusted the messages we brought into the park.
“The presenters said they were overwhelmed just standing back and seeing buckets everywhere with CFA stickers on them and kids running up to them saying, ‘Can we get one?’ They were swarmed by little kids who all love something for free. The presenters were great with how they handled it. They’d say, ‘Go get mum and dad and then you can have a bucket’. It wasn’t about giveaways it was about delivering the messages and having a conversation.”
The presenters had a goal that the person they spoke to needed to ask them three questions.
“We worked out what was the minimum needed to engage with someone,” Nicole says. “If it developed into something more than that then that was fantastic and obviously we loved it when they turned into Fire Ready meetings – 20 or 30 people standing around asking questions about the local risk and environment and what they needed to do if a fire comes.”
Nicole says they were surprised by how successful the events were. “It’s all learning; we don’t know how successful something is going to be until we give it a go. But we ended up giving away 2,000 buckets and it’s a project we are very proud of. I think there are another few regions that might look at this idea, particularly the Murray River area with those small campsites.”
In trying to reach visitors and travellers to the area, Nicole says they also had a lift-out magazine in The Herald Sun around Christmas designed for holidaymakers to read.
“It had simple information and lots of pictures and we thought it could sit around for a few weeks so people could pick it up and flick through it when they had a spare moment,” she says.
“As we always say, it’s about quality not quantity. We want quality outcomes for our community not a quantity of meetings that just get little or no result. However we get the message across, we want to be making sure that the community feels like they understand what their fire risk is and what they can do to reduce it.”
By Yvonne Pecujac