Safety the focus of new fire program

A new program is helping Mid North Coast public school students learn about fire safety. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Students sitting on a floor with their hands raised in the air. Students sitting on a floor with their hands raised in the air.
Image: Students from Bellbrook Public School were excited to be involved in the Brigade Kids program.

When it comes to fire safety awareness, students at Bellbrook Public School know just how important it is to be prepared.

In November 2019, early in what became known as ‘Black Summer’, principal Allison Mitchell turned the small school in the upper Macleay, west of Kempsey, into a makeshift evacuation centre.

“It was a very scary time,” Mrs Mitchell said.

“We had people turning up who had lost everything, and we had no firefighters in town because they were out fighting fires and the roads to us were cut.”

When Fire and Rescue NSW contacted the school with an opportunity to participate in its new Brigade Kids safety program, Ms Mitchell was not surprised when every single student put their hand up to take part.

The school’s 27 students made a big impression on Fire and Rescue staff with their enthusiasm and knowledge.

“It was so uplifting to visit the school,” Fire and Rescue NSW Youth Coordinator Deborah Wilson said.

“The students eagerly demonstrated their knowledge of fire safety learned through their fire ed lessons.

“We got to see their display of work on the classroom walls and were so impressed with how much vital information they had retained.”

A little boy holds a fire hose while a firefighter watches on. A little boy holds a fire hose while a firefighter watches on.
Image: A student from Lake Cathie Public School learns how to use a fire hose.

Five other Mid North Coast public schools, Crescent Head, Frederickton, Kempsey South, Lake Cathie and Telegraph Point, also participated in the program.

“The tragedy and trauma caused by fires can have lasting effects on young children, so prevention through education should always be the first line of defence,” Fire and Rescue NSW Research Officer Melinda McDonald said.

“The Brigade Kids program takes the needs of busy teachers into account, with simple downloadable lesson plans, which are already mapped to the Australian curriculum.”

“It is encouraging to see the students engaging so positively with the safety messages, as we know this improves their responses to fire, and enhances their resilience.

A key component of Brigade Kids is a recently launched interactive website, which includes videos, games and activities to teach children about fire safety.

The website has age-appropriate resources for teachers to access, with information for preschool-aged children, right through to students in years 5 and 6.

“It’s easy to follow and in line with the new curriculum,” Lake Cathie teacher Katy Haste said.

A young boy gets help from a firefighter to point a fire hose. A young boy gets help from a firefighter to point a fire hose.
Image: Students learn about fire safety as well as what's involved in being a firefighter.

Brigade Kids can be taught using smartboards and the new online platform, but aspects of the program could also ring a bell for parents, and even grandparents.

The familiar advice of ‘Get down low and go, go, go!’ remains a key message and was shouted repeatedly in Mid North Coast classrooms as students practiced doing exactly that.

Through the program, students are also taught to ‘Stop, drop, cover and roll,’ learning just how important it is to ‘cover’ their face with their hands, as it helps prevent fire burning their skin and damaging their lungs.

“I can’t wait to get home to tell my parents how to keep safe when a fire’s around,” Tom Kahler from Telegraph Point Public said.

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