Tamworth Fire and Rescue crews have taken a fresh approach to preventing fires, hosting a fire safety and community engagement session at Granny Munro Park in Coledale on Thursday.
While the event was hailed a success by Tamworth Superintendent Tom Cooper the reasons behind the engagement have been a major concern for services and residents alike.
“It has come in response to a number of fires we have had to attend since Christmas,” Superintendent Cooper said.
“There has been quite a few grass fires, three house fires and a number of vehicle fires and the evidence suggests that some of them have been deliberately lit, particularly the grass fires.”
The final straw came late in January when crews attending yet another grass fire had rocks thrown at them by a group of kids.
Many of the grass fires have been lit in the same place, the old brickworks on the corner of Cole Rd and Green St in Coledale, the latest being last weekend when fire danger was listed as catastrophic as the Boggabri and Dunedoo fires raged.
“We basically decided to reach out to the community and the Community Engagement and Cultural Diversity teams came from Sydney to facilitate the community groups meeting,” Superintendent Cooper said.
“We want to get the message out that we are a part of the community the same way that these kids are part of the community.”
Tamworth firefighters are looking to bridge the divide between themselves and some members of the local community on the back of several suspicious and deliberately lit fires in the Coledale area over the past few months.
A community engagement night was held at Granny Munro Park on Thursday with local fire crews connecting with local kids and community members in an attempt to quell the increased amount of avoidable fires.
The evening involved some talks and workshops on fire safety and the dangers posed by unattended fires, as well as handing out lego and colouring-in books to the younger kids, before a sausage sandwich and game of touch football rounded out the night.
Tamworth Superintendent Tom Cooper said the event was a bit of an ice-breaker for an ongoing relationship between the fire service and the local community.
“We are a part of the community too – we are not going to judge kids or call the police,” Superintendent Cooper said.
“We are only here to help and to keep people safe – that is the message we want to put across.”
While the engagement night was a bit of light hearted fun, the reason and message behind it is far from it.
“Make no mistake about it – there are severe penalties for anyone caught lighting fires and that is a matter for the police to deal with,” Superintendent Cooper said.
“We have to minimise the risk to the community and to the fireys in the truck that have to go on the road and then face the fire every time they go out. We also have to pay the retained fireys every time they get called out.”
The fire service also gave out some valuable information to parents that might be having trouble with children that are prone to playing with fire or lighting fires.
“We can help parents with kids that are lighting fires, and have specialists in that area that can help as well,” Superintendent Cooper said.
“The community leaders have really gotten on board…. hopefully we can get the message through.”