Rainbow Preschool case study

“While I respect that not everyone likes social media, in the emergency circumstances like we experienced it was invaluable.”
What happens when you start the day expecting nothing unusual to happen, only to find your preschool and home threatened by a raging fire as the day goes on? Bedrock Journalist Suzanne Kowalski-Roth hears a first-hand account from Joan Murray, Director/Teacher at Rainbow Preschool, Winmalee in the lower Blue Mountains.

“The day began like any other but by 10am on Thursday 17 October the smoke had become thick, so the children were sent indoors and the curtains were closed against the smoke while staff monitored the situation.

“The children continued on with their day oblivious to the developing drama. By lunchtime the situation had deteriorated and a steady stream of parents began arriving to pick up children.

Fire threatens Rainbow Preschool in the Blue Mountains.

“A parent at the preschool and off duty fireman Dale Wade-Ferrell, who was familiar to children and staff for his popular fire training sessions at the preschool, arrived to assess the situation and he was joined by another firefighter from the preschool community.

“By 2.45pm the power had gone. Not long afterwards the fire was in the Preschool’s backyard and they were forced to evacuate via a fire truck.

“I later heard that Dale had flagged down tanker number 82 from Richmond that was heading down the road to Yellow Rock and had diverted them to save our beloved Rainbow building and my own home. The Preschool’s backyard was totally destroyed but thankfully the fire was stopped from taking our home.

“For 65 families in our community we were the only constant in their child’s life. We had eight children who lost their homes.

“We had 12 children evacuated in the back of the fire truck and we had lots of other children whose family members lost their homes. We had other parents who lost garden sheds, fences, bits and pieces and houses were damaged by smoke.

“Every one of those 65 families and our staff was affected by this fire.

“We lost my husband’s workshop which his father had built over 40 years ago. He lost countless precious mementos and antique tools as well as a beer can collection.

“In hindsight I couldn’t have done anything differently. We were well prepared by the training Dale had given us. We have a really good Preschool community. We all look after each other. On the first Saturday after the fire we had 30 people turn up to help clear the backyard and get us reopened.

“We were only closed for six school days. We worked from sun up to sun down and when the sun went down we set up lights to work by. We became a distribution centre for families in need. You name it we distributed it - everything from shoes, clothing, nappies, food and toiletries.

“Our evacuation plan was in place and we stuck to it and it worked. Quick communication with parents was critical. Not everybody likes Facebook but in this instance I was able, via my phone to keep the parents in touch with where we were and what was happening.

“While I respect that not everyone likes social media in the emergency circumstances like we experienced it was invaluable.”