Artistic approach to educating children about fire safety

In February 2009, Victoria was ravaged by one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history. Now known as Black Saturday, it resulted in the country’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire. The fires decimated over one million acres of land, changing lives forever, and the effects continue to be felt in families and communities.

Julie Millowick Images Photo by Julie Millowick

One of the communities affected was Strathewen, which has a population of around 180 people. While everyone in the community was affected by the fires, years after the 2009 fires, it became apparent that primary school-aged children were still traumatised by the event. Some became distressed just seeing a firetruck on the road.

The CFA wanted to build trust and understanding among the kids and have now conducted two successful arts-based projects within the local primary school, with funding from FRRR’s Grants for Resilience & Wellness (GR&W) program. GR&W recognises that recovery takes time and community recovery involves opportunities to connect, share experiences, enhance individual and community wellbeing and resilience for the future.

In this case, an ongoing partnership between the CFA, the local primary school and the Strathewen community has demonstrated the valuable role of the arts in a disaster recovery context.

Fire Danger Rating Claymation Project

Grade 4-6 students at Strathewen Primary School created a Claymation (clay animation) to illustrate and educate others about fire danger ratings. The Claymation video is set in the Australian bush and features Australian native and domestic animals as the characters. Students developed the content, gaining knowledge during excursions in the bush and incursions with the CFA.

The project creatively engaged children and the community about fire danger ratings, having a positive attitude and it’s best to “leave early”. Community members volunteered their time to be involved in this arts project, and the launch was a great success. It has even been shown at other schools in fire risk areas across Victoria.

Strathewen Fire Education Partnership

The Survive and Thrive theme continued in a second project between the CFA and the Strathewen Primary School, which explored the themes of personal and environmental resilience in a bushfire context, referencing the cultural and historical significance of bushfire to the local area. Weekly education sessions were conducted by the CFA, educating students on a range of topics related to fire safety, including managing fuel loads, reducing risk, fire danger ratings, fire behavior, weather conditions, map reading, and using scientific equipment to measure humidity, wind speed and the moisture content of undergrowth.

This resulted in the production of a picture book featuring the original family from their Claymation production, who share their knowledge with a new family that has moved into the community who aren’t fire aware. A behind the scenes documentary on the fire education partnership and the creation of the book was also produced, which details the extraordinary connections that were made between the CFA, the school, and volunteer members of the community who helped with the process.

The CFA and Strathewen School's participation in the Art Resides Here project will give them the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and the role these artistic mediums have played in the ongoing recovery of the community, and enable them to share their stories with others.

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