Ausnew Home Care | Firefighter learns Auslan to ensure deaf students

Firefighter learns Auslan to ensure deaf students are not left behind when it comes to fire safety

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When a Perth firefighter realised deaf and hard of hearing students were being left out when it came to taking part in school-based fire safety and awareness programs, he decided to take action.

Senior firefighter Michael Hatfield, from Midland Fire and Rescue, took it upon himself to learn Australian sign language — known as Auslan — less than six months ago.

It led this week to what is believed to be Australia's first Auslan fire safety presentation to students at Mosman Park School for Deaf Children.

"I was really nervous," Mr Hatfield said.

"I just had my fingers crossed that when I started, the kids would understand what I was saying.

A wide shot of firefighter Michael Hatfield speaking to a group of students in class at Mosman Park School for Deaf Children. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Mr Hatfield delivered a home fire safety course to all 22 students at the deaf school.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando


"But from what I could gather they understood … they took the message, they were really good, really interactive, had lots of questions and they were really welcoming to me."

While Mr Hatfield is not deaf himself, and does not have any deaf family members, it was through his work that he realised the deaf community was not being thought about enough.

"When I'd go to a emergency I'd sometimes think it's such a scary situation for a person in the public," he said.

"I thought I could just learn some very basic signs … so that I could communicate a little, but I started the classes and really enjoyed them."

A message about more than just fire safety

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) provides a number of fire safety and awareness programs which are set up between schools and their local fire departments.

While a translator for a deaf student can be organised to attend those presentations, Mr Hatfield wanted to create a dedicated one for them, an idea DFES welcomed and supported.

A mid shot of firefighter Michael Hatfield in a classroom at Mosman Park School for Deaf Children with his hand to his ear.
Mr Hatfield took it upon himself to learn sign language so he could teach the students.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando


The senior firefighter worked with his Auslan teacher to translate the Year 3 Home Fire Safety course, which Mr Hatfield delivered to all 22 students, ranging from Year 1 to Year 6, at the deaf school in Perth's western suburbs.

"I'd really like them to remember the destructive force of fire, and that a small fire can become a large fire really quickly, and that there are real consequences to playing with fire," he said.

"But today's school visit was also a little bit different.

"We want to help them just the same as we'd help anyone else."

Students 'were just enthralled'

Mosman Park School for Deaf Children principal Monique Smith said she felt the students had received that message loud and clear.

A behind shot of firefighter Michael Hatfield helping a student from Mosman Park School for Deaf Children hold a fire hose.
The students had the chance to try using a fire hose during Mr Hatfield's visit.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando


"The fact that a fireman has taken the time to learn their language and come out and speak to them really shows that they're valued members of the community," she said.

"Our kids don't have long attention spans and the fact that they sat and watched the whole presentation, they were just enthralled."

Year 3 student Shai Strong learned a lot from Mr Hatfield's presentation, including what to do if he were ever caught inside his house in a fire.

A mid-shot of a smiling Mosman Park School for Deaf Children student, Shai Strong, sitting in a fire truck.
Shai Strong jumped at the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a fire truck.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando


"You crawl on the ground until you get out of the door, or you open a window, or maybe you have to do both," he said.

"But if you smell the smoke you quickly crawl on the floor and you get out of the house."

Big red fire truck steals the show

But for Shai, like most of the students, it was the big red fire truck — brought to the school from Claremont Fire and Rescue Service along with four extra crew members — that excited him the most.

A wide shot of firefighter Michael Hatfield next to a fire truck with students from Mosman Park School for Deaf Children.
Mr Hatfield's visit captivated the students and could be the first of many to come.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando


"The fire truck has all the alarms," he said.

"And they come to your house when there's a fire."

The students had the chance to ask questions, jump inside the fire truck and even try using the hose.

It capped off a successful day, one that included Mr Hatfield's first Auslan presentation — and based on the response from all involved, likely the first of many to come.


Source: ABC

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