Educating communities in fire safety

Member News image Community Safety Coordinator Chloe Watts


Supporting brigades to engage effectively with their community about fire safety is the responsibility of the brigade’s community safety coordinator. We talked to four brigades about the work they do.


Jim Buchan

For 36 years Jim Buchan has dedicated his time to Eldorado Fire Brigade and protecting the 300 tight-knit residents who live in the small town near Wangaratta.

Proudly representing the brigade as their community safety coordinator, Jim is passionate about continuing to help educate the community to keep themselves safe, particularly as the area is virtually surrounded by national and state parks.

Jim works with other community safety coordinators (CSC) in the Wangaratta Group throughout the year to evaluate and prepare for upcoming fire and winter seasons.

“We learned back in 2003 when there was quite a large fire just outside town that people didn’t quite know what was going on and what they were supposed to do,” Jim said.

“It’s really important that we keep reinforcing key messages. It helps keep people up-to-date and aware of what’s going on and encourages them to make efforts to prepare their properties.”

In his role he oversees many safety initiatives including updating the Fire Danger Rating board, contributing articles to local newspapers and uploading safety messages to member portals.

“We’ve previously joined with neighbouring brigades Everton, Tarrawingee and Wangaratta North for open days at a central school, where we keep the community updated about what’s going on,” Jim said.

“We maintain a presence at the monthly food share at Eldorado and run the smoke alarm program for older community members who are unable to go up ladders to change their batteries.

“We’ve also done the ‘red bucket appeal’ where we distributed thousands of red buckets in collaboration with the Benalla and Wangaratta groups.

“We went to people’s front doors and handed them a red bucket containing leaflets and fire safety information, essentially saying ‘this is your fire truck’.

“We had a bit of a discussion while we were face-to-face, indicating that while we do the best that we can, we can’t always provide a truck to every house, so this red bucket represents a safety net and a tool to prepare.”

community safety coordinator Jim Buchan

Chloe Watts

Chloe Watts is the CSC for Koondrook Fire Brigade on the Murray River in the state’s north-west. She works on a range of community safety projects throughout the year, with the latest idea targeting the younger generation.

“Our brigade has self-funded a community education fire truck which is essentially a large wooden fire truck for kids,” Chloe said.

The fire truck, which cost $5,500, is being constructed now and is expected to be complete by October. It will be transported to community events in a trailer which has been provided by CFA’s local district mechanical officer.

“The truck will be purpose-built for kids to climb on. There are hose reels so they can squirt water, a steering wheel, flashing lights and a pretend radio,” she said.

“We’re excited to have this resource to further boost our interaction with kids. If we can continue to teach kids about fire education at schools and get them engaged at community events, then it helps get the parents involved too.

“I’d like to thank our 2nd Lieutenant Nathan Goble, who is super handy, for constructing this truck. It’s fantastic having members in the brigade who are passionate and willing to put their hand up and help build something that will benefit the brigade, the community and other brigades.”

Chloe is dedicated to engaging her local community about fire safety so they’re ready for any emergency.

“We plan for the worst but we hope for the best. If the community is prepared, it helps the brigade too,” she said.

Chloe has been a community safety coordinator for more than 13 years with Wandin and Koondrook brigades. She works closely with the Koondrook Development Committee which comprises volunteers who work together on local community events. The brigade also partners with cross-border NSW brigades at events such as the Barham Koondrook Show.

“These events give our brigade a great opportunity to be involved and engage with the community,” Chloe said. “Our brigade loves being the face of the community and through the work that we do we recently recruited six new members.”

Chloe Watts

Rob Bartorelli

Despite having only a few years of CFA volunteering under his belt, Rob Bartorelli is kicking goals in his role as CSC with Halls Gap Fire Brigade.

As a police officer by profession, Rob knows the importance of effective community engagement and his combined approach of face-to-face engagement and maintaining a strong social media presence is working well.

“Halls Gap has a small population of fewer than 500 residents, but as a tourism hot spot, we see large numbers of visitors frequent the area, especially during summer,” Rob said.

“We have some beautiful camping locations in the Grampians, but the downside is limited mobile phone coverage. Some tourists travel from places where they rely heavily on mobile phone emergency notifications, and they aren’t aware of Fire

Danger Ratings or what you can and can’t do on a day of Total Fire Ban.

“To overcome this, we make sure we visit these locations in person during peak periods, educating campers about fire risks in the area especially ahead of a day of TFB.

“We’ve also changed our approach on social media to ensure diligent messaging during the Fire Danger Period and connecting with local visitor pages, tourism groups and community pages.

“I also started sharing images and footage from incidents we’ve attended, to show people exactly what happens when we attend a job. This helps drive home the message about preventable fires. These posts have seen a huge boost in the engagement on our Facebook page, along with the large number of posts being shared, which is almost like digital word-of-mouth.

“Then there are the small, but important changes like the location of Fire Danger Rating and TFB signage. These have been relocated to high traffic areas like the supermarket and service station to provide greater exposure and increase awareness, especially for visitors to the area.

“These simple changes have seen a significant drop in the number of callouts for illegal fires during TFB.”

Rob Bartorelli

Sandra Beasley

For almost 15 years, Bellarine communities have been hearing about local fire risks and safety from CFA’s Sandra Beasley. Her knack for engaging local residents and businesses means the broader community is safer thanks to the work she’s done.

Sandra wears many hats. She is the CSC for Mannerim Fire Brigade and the Bellarine Group, as well as chair of the Bellarine Group Community Safety Committee. She is also chair of District 7’s Community Safety and Engagement Committee.

“Mannerim is a farming community without a town centre, so I engage with local farmers and landowners, caravan parks and community groups,” Sandra said.

“To do all this, I set out a brigade community engagement plan, which is well supported by CFA district staff and our brigade members. This outlines how and when we speak to our community and what we speak to them about.”

The brigades in Bellarine Group have similar fire risks, stakeholders and engagement challenges. The Bellarine Group Community Safety Committee allows CSCs to meet more than four times a year to support each other in executing their engagement plans.

“We work together to help each other upskill by sharing information about what worked for us and what didn’t, as well as inviting guest speakers,” Sandra said.

“I encourage neighbouring brigades to work together on community engagement activities. For example, our brigade has similar risks to Wallington so we co-produce a community newsletter and distribute it to residents in our respective response areas.

“If there’s ever an opportunity to work together on community engagement, I encourage it.”

Sandra has been a brigade member since 2007 and took on the CSC role in 2009. From there she built a growing passion for it.

“I really believe community safety works and is so important for prevention,” she said. “I’d much prefer to organise a presentation to prevent a fire than to respond to put one out.

“We can’t do this role without a great support group at the brigade level. It’s fantastic to work with people who value community safety and understand that it goes hand-in-hand with operations.”

Sandra Beasley


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