Australia — ARMED with practical skills for fire fighting, rural women are better prepared to protect their families.
The South Australian Country Fire Service, with the State Government and the community, developed the award-winning education program called Firery Women after the devastating Wangary fire on the Lower Eyre Peninsula. Nine people died, mostly women and children.
Community education and public warnings manager Fiona Dunstan said research including in-depth interviews with survivors showed rural women were particularly vulnerable.
“Women were often left on the farm,” she said.
“The men would get on their fire trucks and they’d be gone for the day. More often than not, the women and children were left at home with the fire.
“There were some instances of the men ringing and saying ‘Just take the kids and go, I’m really frightened for you, just go’. Others were left at home with no idea how to start pumps, no idea how to squirt water, because that was typically the role of the men in the household.”
Mother of two Hayley Anderson, from Endeavour Heights near Port Lincoln, said she’d always imagined she’d bundle the family in the car as soon as she saw smoke or flames.
That was until she heard about the tragic death of Judith Griffith, 59, and her grandchildren, Jack, 2, and Star Borlase, 3, who left too late.
“It so easily could have been us,” she said. “It’s quite frightening when you see it that way.”
Mrs Anderson was so impressed with her first Firey Women workshop that she took her 12-year-old daughter, mother and mother-in-law along at the next opportunity.
“All this sort of stuff you leave to men generally is what Firey Women teaches you,” Mrs Anderson said.
“It’s really hands on. You get in there and you do actually work a pump, you hold on to a hose while the water is gushing out and you realise how difficult it is to control it and how strong it is. You don’t want to come across that sort of stuff and have no idea of what you’re doing.”
Firey Women has won the state final of the 2011 Australian Safer Communities Awards. The national winner will be announced in Canberra next month.