Over the past six years a portable house filled with smoke has been delivering a vital home fire safety message to the smallest members of the community.
The smoke house is part of the arsenal used by CFA’s Community Education Group in the Loddon Mallee region, to talk to hundreds of children each year about fire safety.
The volunteer group, made up of 16 members of the region’s brigades from Kangaroo Flat and Maldon to Dunolly and Heathcote, take the pre-fab smoke house to primary schools as part of CFA’s Fire Safe Kids program.
Paul Tangey, a community education coordinator for the region, says: “We use a smoke machine similar to ones used in nightclubs and the idea is that children are given a five to 10 minute lesson before going through the smoke house to teach and reinforce the message of ‘crawl low in smoke’ and ‘get down low, and go, go, go’.
“Hundreds and hundreds of children have gone through it each year over the past six or seven years.
“The children are taught what to do if they find a fire in the house. You might have smoke coming from under the door – feel the back of the door in the correct way so that when you’re opening the door you’re not exposing yourself to flames. We want to teach them to get out of there in the safest way possible.”
The group recently won three grants, including one of the Victorian Fire Awareness Awards last year, to build a mobile smoke house on the back of a trailer that will be more portable and easy to use.
The group also use a display trailer and a small pre-fab cubbyhouse for fire awareness.
“The idea of the cubby is that there are lots of props that sit around it to identify fire safety and fire hazards as well as good and bad points around the house when you’re preparing for the fire season,” says Paul.
“We have things like an old gas bottle sitting there, an old tin of paint, a pile of fire wood … We want to teach people that you don’t leave these potential hazards lying around. But we also have a mop and a bucket sitting by the back door ready for putting out embers.
“The idea is that you walk around the outside of the cubby working out the bad points such as wooden window frames and the potential danger from embers, and the good points such as metal mesh over the gutters to stop embers getting into the gutters. It’s a practical demonstration of what we’re talking about.”
What the group take with them when they go out all depends on the audience.
“Quite often we’ll go along to a rural show or to support a local fire brigade that’s having an event or display in their local community, or to talk to students in schools about home fire safety,” he says.
“For instance, tomorrow we’re going to Maldon to the Victorian Deaf Society community gaslight festival and we’re taking our display trailer, a marquee and the badge-making machine, which is a real drawcard for the kids. The idea is to engage the children so that while they are busy we can talk to the adults.
“If we can get our message across to one person by doing a display then we’ve achieved something, but the more people we can reach the better off we are.”
Written by Yvonne Pecujac