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.
- Michael Hatfield gave what is thought to be Australia's first Auslan fire safety course
- The course was taught to all 22 students at Mosman Park School for Deaf Children
- Mr Hatfield says he wants the children to realise the fire service is there for them too
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.