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School no fool when it comes to bushfire risk
Friday 17 March 2017 – 1:00 PM

With more than 400 young students in attendance and surrounded by national parks and reserves, Darlington Primary School in the Perth Hills is located in the middle of a very high risk bushfire area. 

Being aware of their risks and having a comprehensive bushfire emergency plan is crucial for the school and the safety of the young lives in its care.

A/Principal Maree James said they take bushfire preparation extremely seriously.

“Darlington is a beautiful place to live and work but it is a high risk area,” Maree said.  

“Only a few short years ago some of our staff, students and families were impacted by the Parkerville bushfire, which was not far from here,” Maree said. 

“When something like that happens in a neighbouring community and affects people you know, it really brings home the reality of the bushfire risks that we face.”

Maree said there were some incidents they were watchful of during the last bushfire season. 

“We did have some bushfires nearby earlier this year, but after checking the location and the level of warning, we assessed that we were safe and able to continue functioning as normal.

“However, it’s reassuring to know that we have a plan and we all know what to do if the school does come under threat.

“Such situations are very stressful and it is essential that all students, staff, parents and the local community are aware and prepared to respond appropriately if a bushfire emergency occurs.  

“Otherwise, with so many students and parents involved the situation could quickly get out of control and put lives in unnecessary danger.”

The school’s plan includes actions and contingencies for what to do in the event of a bushfire warning. 

It encompasses steps such as turning off air conditioners but keeping water running through the system, moving to a designated area for sheltering in place should the need occur, following evacuation routes, collecting medical kits, and liaising with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and WA Police, among other things.

The school also closes for the day in the event of a Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating for the area, with parents notified the day before.

“A Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating represents the worst conditions for a bushfire and the only safe place to be is away from high risk areas,” Maree said. 

“If a fire were to start near the school it would spread rapidly – it’s simply not safe to have students present on a day like that, particularly not in our location.”

Maree said the school puts their plans into practice twice during Term 1 and Term 4, to ensure everyone knows what to do and to identify any potential areas for improvement.

“Mark Casotti, the Community Emergency Services Manager for the Shire of Mundaring, came along to one of our practice runs this year and gave us some valuable feedback and suggestions,” Maree said. 

“We review our plan each year and continue to refine and improve upon it. 

“Darlington Primary and other local Perth Hills schools also meet with shire representatives each year to get feedback on our bushfire emergency plans and procedures.”

Aside from having a thorough bushfire plan in place, the school also makes an effort to raise awareness of the risks amongst its community. 

“We focus on bushfire safety in our teaching and learning programs for students and we provide information for parents in our school newsletters and on our website. 

“This includes our bushfire plan as they need to be familiar with it.” 

A/DFES Deputy Commissioner Darren Klemm said it was encouraging to see a school taking their bushfire risk so seriously and putting the appropriate measures in place. 

“DFES advises people to get out early when there is the threat of bushfire but for some places such as schools, hospitals or retirement homes, it can take more time to relocate everyone to safety.

“It can be difficult for people to make rational decisions when they’re faced with danger and that is further complicated when there are hundreds of students, staff and parents involved –it’s vital for schools to have a comprehensive plan, educate their school community on it and practice it regularly.

“Likewise, community members need to have their own bushfire survival plan and practice it with their family so everyone knows what to do. 

“It’s also important that people understand the different Advice, Watch and Act, and Emergency warnings issued by DFES and act accordingly – being prepared for bushfires is a shared responsibility.”

Visit www.areyouready.wa.gov.au​ for more information about how to prepare for and respond to bushfires. 

To view the video from the bushfire drill at Darlington Primary School visit the DFES Facebook Page​

Department of Education run schools are required to have customised Bushfire Emergency Plans. Plans are subject to review by DFES.