An innovative school-based program helping students become volunteer firefighters has been boosted by funding from Minderoo Foundation as part of its Resilient Communities Mission.
The grassroots training program was developed at Gingin District High School (DHS) in partnership with the Shire of Gingin to build community resilience and firefighting capacity.
A devastating bushfire north of Perth that burned through 12,000 hectares of land and threatened thousands of homes in December 2019 highlighted the value of such a program. The fire saw students from Gingin DHS fighting on the frontline with their parents as the blaze approached Woodridge. It was the second major fire to affect the local community, after a blaze damaged several classrooms at the school in August 2019.
Gingin DHS worked with the Shire of Gingin, Gingin Volunteer Fire Rescue and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) to develop an educational program aimed at building fire-fighting skills among students.
The compulsory 16-week program for Year 10 students is now part of their core curriculum and educates pupils about fire safety, firefighting and bushfire management.
Graduates of the program receive formal DFES accredited certificates of achievement, which equate to the qualification of an entry level volunteer firefighter and are encouraged to join their local fire brigade once they turn 16.
Minderoo Foundation today announced more than $25,000 in funding to enable Gingin DHS to purchase 30 personal protective equipment packs for the program, which include a jacket, pants, helmet, gloves and boots.
“As part of Minderoo Foundation’s comprehensive response to Australia’s 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, we are proud to support innovative programs that build resilience and equip communities to better deal with disasters,” Minderoo Foundation Co-Chair Nicola Forrest said.
“We have since launched Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative which is helping communities to access support and resources to mitigate their disaster risk and bounce back stronger.”
Minderoo Foundation Resilient Communities Mission lead Kim Wilkie said the Gingin DHS program was an excellent example of how communities could be equipped with the skills and resources to prepare for and respond to bushfires.
“We’re committed to supporting local programs like this which aim to inspire young people to take an active role in preparing for and fighting fires,” Mr Wilkie said. “It is promising to see that many students in this program have gone on to volunteer for the local fire service.
“We will be drawing from the lesson papers and curriculum content that has been developed from this program to further expand it in fire-prone district high schools across Western Australia and in other states and territories.”
Gingin DHS Principal Kevin Brady said the school wanted to ensure its students had vital information that would help them understand bushfires, as well as skills that could be transferable into a volunteer capacity so that its students would be able to make a positive contribution to their community.
Gingin DHS Deputy Principal Andrea Vis said the new program had introduced volunteer firefighting to students who may have never considered it as an option before.
“We are very conscious of promoting community engagement and volunteerism among students as well as building connections with the wider community,” Ms Vis said. “Given the Shire of Gingin is in a bushfire-prone area, this provided a relevant context for our students to learn within.
“We are hoping to expand the scope of the program in 2021, and this donation from Minderoo Foundation will be instrumental in helping us achieve that.”
Gingin Volunteer Fire and Rescue Captain Nikki Woods said fire and rescue services relied heavily on the contributions of volunteers to keep the community safe.
“In a community needing more volunteers, this program has inspired a new generation of volunteer firefighters, who can now feel confident that they have the skills to help their local brigade,” Ms Woods said.
“We hope to expand the program to young people who don’t attend school but are interested in this type of work. The program is also a fabulous way to enhance local brigades in their ability to respond to bushfires in the region.”
Minderoo Foundation has also donated a perpetual shield to Gingin DHS to recognise the program’s most outstanding participant every year.
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.