Gingin students buffeted by recent fire events get a push along to be volunteer firefighters

20 September 2020

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AUSTRALIA – Last year the students at Gingin District High School nearly lost their entire school after a fire destroyed two classrooms, resulting in more than $2.5 million in damage. This year they are learning to fight back.

While the cause of the fire has not been determined and the buildings are yet to be rebuilt, the school has done one thing — brought in local experts to teach its students to fight fire.

Collaborating with the Shire of Gingin and the Gingin Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service, deputy principal Andrea Vis said the program was in development before part of the school burnt down.

The fire at the school was the catalyst for the program to be integrated this year.

Like many regional towns, Gingin’s fire and ambulance services are volunteer-based.

The program being taught at the school is the same as the first two units that new volunteer firefighters complete, meaning students will be able to join their local bushfire brigade at the end of the year.

Ms Vis said not only are students learning about fire and fire safety, they are learning to be valued community members.

“It is fundamental that we instil that sense of ownership and sense of belonging for a community to survive,” she said.

Students no stranger to fire

While fires devastated Australia’s east coast at the end of last year, out of control bushfires in WA threatened lives and homes in Yanchep and nearby Woodridge.

Year 10 student Darcy Wilkinson was left fearful whether his family home would still be there when he returned from being evacuated.

“The fire got at least 50 metres or so away from our property,” he said.

His school mate Alara Letchford was in a similar situation.

“I was on a horseriding camp and a fire started, the sky went black and you couldn’t see anything for miles,” she said.

“We had to be evacuated in cars with lots of kids … obviously going that close to a fire is very scary.”

Alara said when the school fire occurred she was devastated.

“I was so sad about it, I could not sleep for a few nights,” she said.

Alara said the firefighting training had given her confidence and something other schools should do.

“There are bushfires and there are house fires, from oils and cooking. That is something that is very common,” she said.

“Kids should definitely learn to protect themselves and put it out.”

Darcy said he would like to volunteer with the local brigade at the end of the course.

“Volunteers are vital to us,” he said.

Training future proofing community

Gingin Volunteer Fire and Rescue captain Nikki Woods not only gives up her time to fight fires, but also volunteers to train the students.

“I like to share my knowledge with the younger crews coming through,” she said.

“I see it as future proofing our brigade so we have members coming through all the time.”

Principal Kevin Brady said the course is unique but has been tailored to fit with the WA Education Department curriculum.

“This is a great initiative and it is a model for other schools to pick up and run with,” he said.

“That is a very, very important skill for all of our students and I would argue for students [to take it up] everywhere.”

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