Quick Thinking Principal Ensures Safety of Students

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
18 Oct 2013

Camp in Springwood turned being a different kind of adventure for youngsters from Drummoyne's St Mark's Primary

A much anticipated overnight camp excursion to Springwood for youngsters in Years 5 and 6 at St Mark's Primary School, Drummoyne turned into a very different kind of adventure yesterday when the five staff and three parents travelling with the children spotted smoke rising above the tree line.

"The smoke was from spot fires and quite a long way off, but they were concerned," says principal Margaret Sargisson.

The camp is an annual event for pupils in Years 5 and 6 and at 9 am yesterday 74 of the school's young students had excitedly boarded a bus and headed for Springwood.

The 10 and 11-year-olds arrived at the Blue Gum Lodge shortly before 11 am and had already enjoyed riding bikes and engaging in other specially planned activities, when the smoke was first sighted.

Deputy Principal, Rachel Bourke, who was with the group, instantly grabbed her mobile and called St Mark's Primary.

"We were both concerned and knew that in such dry conditions, a fire could quickly become much worse. So after a short discussion, I made the call to bring the children home," Margaret says.

No sooner had the decision been made than the fire began spreading. In no time the group of youngsters, staff and parents found themselves in what was fast becoming a full-scale emergency.

"The fire moved at incredible speed," Margaret says. The group was particularly fortunate that the Blue Gum Lodge had an evacuation plan and the children were no more than a 12 minute walk from the Springwood Sports Club where the Rural Fire Service and Police had set up an evacuation centre.

The children were quickly assembled and taken to the centre as water-bombing helicopters flew overhead and fire trucks raced along the highway.
Getting the children from the safety of the Springwood Sports Club to Sydney proved somewhat more difficult with all buses in the area tied up evacuating residents and local schools such as Springwoods St Thomas Aquinas Primary School and St Columba's High School.

Children were evacuated as the spread quickly through the mountains.

"There were no buses available to bring us down the mountain. So I contacted the Sydney bus company that had taken the children to Springwood in the morning and they very kindly agreed to make the journey back to Springwood and bring them home," says Margaret.

Despite calls, emails and texts from worried parents who had seen television news on the fires, the children were never in any danger and at 3.45 the bus made it to Springwood from Sydney in order to bring them home.

With the smoke haze and heavy traffic on the roads in and out of the Blue Mountains,  it took  several hours before the group arrived at St Mark's Primary School, Drumnoyne, where the youngsters were met by relieved families and parents.

For the 10 and 11 year olds it had been one big adventure and a day to remember. Their only regret was that despite pleas to be allowed to stay the night and bed down in the hall at the evacuation centre, they instead were back home, safe and sound in their own beds.

"They're now asking whether we can do another camp as this one had to be cut short," Margaret says but with the end of the school year only a few weeks away that is unlikely.