Strathewen Primary School win Spirit of CFA Award for Community Engagement

Member News image Strathewen Primary School student Oliver Price with CEO Natalie MacDonald


A program that aims to equip children with basic fire-safe knowledge has been awarded a Spirit of CFA Award.


Lisal O’Brien and the Strathewen Primary School have been presented the 2020 Excellence in Community Engagement – team award at the 2022 Spirit of CFA Awards ceremony.

Following the devastating 2009 bushfires, a sense of anxiety was felt within the Strathewen community. As a result of this, the Strathewen Arthurs Creek Bushfire Awareness Partnership was created, a collaboration between the Arthurs Creek-Strathewen Fire Brigade and Strathewen Primary School.

Lisal O’Brien is 3rd Lieutenant at Arthurs Creek-Strathewen and the program coordinator for the partnership. She said she was inspired by a similar program being run in the Anglesea community and wanted to educate their local children on fire behaviour.

“We developed the program as a result of anxieties that were still felt from Black Saturday,” Lisal said.

“We started in 2016, and while the children in the program at that time weren’t at the school while it was destroyed in 2009, they and their families were all still heavily affected by the fires.

“There were a lot of kids who didn’t understand why fires happen and how they occur, so we wanted to make sure we were really giving them the best chance to understand fire behaviour and in doing so ease their anxieties somewhat.”

The program brought together grade five and six students with local CFA members. During the program, students learn about fire behaviour and considered ways of understanding, managing and reducing the threats involved with living in a high fire risk area.

“We had two aims when we first began the program: to better connect the school and the brigade, and to create something that would help the kids to understand the whole concept of fire from a scientific perspective. We have absolutely achieved both of those things during the course of the program.”

The program aims to reduce fear of the unknown and build resilience through understanding and community connections. In 2016 the award-winning claymation was produced. Titled "If you care, stay aware, be prepared", the animation looked at Fire Danger Ratings and what they mean.

The following year, the school produced a picture book as a sequel to the Claymation. Titled `Life in the bush, Gem Gem’s next adventure', the book looked at the precautions that need to be taken to stay safe when living in the Australian bush and helping your neighbours to achieve the same.

Lisal O’Brien is part of an innovative team led by School Principal Jane Haywood who has carefully developed an education program instilling confidence in grade five and six students to not only understand fire and fire behaviour, but also to share this knowledge with their families and the broader community. Several members from the Arthurs Creek-Strathewen brigade are also regularly available to attend sessions and educate the local children.

Community engagement has been achieved by involving the Strathewen community in sharing their stories and lessons from the 2009 bushfires in the development of the claymation movie and the story book. These stories were incorporated into key messages about being prepared, understanding the Fire Danger Ratings and how to use the ratings to make informed decisions.

The community were also a part of the development of the storybook with community members assisting and supporting the school students in the creation of the figures and backgrounds for the storybook.

Lisal said she was surprised that the program was nominated for a Spirit of CFA Award.

“It’s a really nice surprise to be nominated and I feel very fortunate that our program has received recognition. As CFA members, I think the best thing we can do is spend time with our local community, especially our youth, and give them the benefit of all of this information we have – and that’s what our program aims to do.”


  • Member News imageStrathewen Primary School student Oliver Price with CEO Natalie MacDonald
  • Member News image Lisal O'Brien (left) and Jane Haywood (right) with students from Strathewen Primary School
Submitted by CFA Media