An innovative scheme to teach young primary school teachers in the Barwon South West region about bushfire safety was really born out of fire.
When the small township of Branxholme, near Hamilton, had a fire the week before Black Saturday in 2009, parents began asking questions.
What if the fire – which was only 3 kilometres away from the town’s primary school – had happened a week later when the children were back from holidays?
And the Back Saturday fires were another grim reminder, according to CFA Community Development Coordinator Sharon Linke.
“It happened on a Saturday, but if it had not been a weekend what would have happened?”
Sharon says school staff realised they knew what to do if a fire started inside the school – get the children outside – but not what to do if a grassfire or bushfire threatened and the danger was outside.
“Many of the parents are on the school council and a lot of those parents would be members of CFA and asking, ‘Do you as teachers really know what to do?’ So the school principal got in touch with us.”
Sharon says a few months after the fire, CFA went to the school and talked to students and teachers about fire behaviour.
CFA also decided to look at the primary schools in their region that were on the list of the State’s top 52 highest-risk towns: Dunkeld and Bolwarra.
“In Bolwarra, for instance, the centre of the community is the school and they have a forest on their back doorstep,” Sharon says.
“We realised that rural towns tend to attract young city graduates who may have no experience or knowledge about a bushfire. Graduate teachers will come for one to two years and then they tend to move back closer to their friends and family.”
The region office designed a program especially for teachers with the aim of reaching young graduates who had come from the city.
“We offered it to the schools in the area but after Black Saturday we really focused on schools in high-risk areas,” Sharon says.
This year the program has already gone out to 18 schools in the region and they are now broadening the focus to include schools in lesser high-risk areas.
“The response we got was that it was pretty valuable, especially from ones who had no experience of country areas,” Sharon says. “A lot of them said they had no idea about any of this.”
“Teachers also realised that they might be out on a school excursion or taking kids out swimming, so conversations started around that.
“Unless people see a relevance they don’t go looking for information about fires so how do you get to them? We need to find ways to go into their community and this was one way we found to reach them.”
By Yvonne Pecujac
Photo courtesy of Branxholme-Wallacedale Community School