Monday, October 31, 2016

A Shocking Story!

I was shocked to hear about the actions of the emergency services who responded to the evacuation of a public school during a recent fire emergency and appalled by the follow-up actions of the Education Department!  

The fire was started by arsonists in the library and it quickly spread throughout the entire administration block and surrounding classrooms putting half the school community at risk of serious injury. 

As soon as the fire alarm was activated the school evacuation plan was immediately initiated with the students in relatively unaffected buildings being evacuated orderly through designated exits to the emergency assembly area.  Most of the staff in the administration block were able to exit through the main entrance.  However, a dozen teachers who were overcome by smoke inhalation had to smash a window in the staff room to escape from the thick blanket of smoke. Unfortunately, this window led into a closed in courtyard and the teachers were forced to climb over the timber privacy screens to get out.  

The class studying in the library were completely trapped with no way to safely exit by following the school's well rehearsed evacuation plan. Both emergency exits were blocked by flames and debris from the fire and panic caused the students to become disorientated with fear.  The librarian ushered some of the students to the back of the library and used a chair to break through a dividing partition into the classroom next door to find another way out.  The students on the mezzanine level with their class teacher climbed up the wall mounted book shelf and helped each other through a small overhead window onto the roof of the library.  Once on the roof they ran across the metal cladding towards the fire brigade frantically waving and yelling to get their attention.

As expected, the students who followed the school evacuation procedures were immediately attended to by the designated fire wardens to ensure they were accounted for and were assessed by first aiders for any injuries.  But to my surprise the staff who broke through the window and climbed over the timber screens were reprimanded by the police for not following correct procedures before being treated by the paramedics for smoke inhalation.  What I found most outrageous was how those trapped in the library were treated by the emergency services after their ordeal of escaping from the worst effected area of the school.  The librarian and students who broke through the partition wall were refused medical treatment by the ambos!  And those who climbed onto the roof were told by the fire brigade to go back the way the came and exit the building the right way!!

If this wasn't bad enough, an internal investigation of the incident by the Education Department found the teachers who had helped the students escape the 'wrong way' were in breach of department policy. The teachers lost their jobs and the students involved in damaging property were expelled from the school! Just when you thought this story couldn't get any more bizarre, the Minister for Education pursued legal action against the school principal to deter other schools from breaching emergency procedures in the future.

Sounds outrageous?  Absolutely, because it's not a true story!  If this fictional story was true, it would justifiably evoke the condemnation of every reasonably minded person associated with this made up school scenario. 

However, it does serve as a confronting allegory of the outrageous policies of the Australian government for handling traumatised people pursuing any means of escape possible from the dangers they face; irrespective of whether or not it complies with what is considered to be acceptable. In the face of imminent danger, real or perceived, there is no such thing as a 'right' or 'wrong' way to seek asylum. When you are in danger your survival instincts don't stop and ask if your safety is logical or even legal. When your family is at risk you don't stop and ask permission to make them safe.  If we are brutally honest and put our fears and prejudices aside, there is very little that any one of us wouldn't do if we genuinely felt our safety was threatened.  

Any parent who has ever said, "I would do anything to protect my family," needs to rethink condemning a mother or father who has acted on that statement.  Any government that has ever sent troops to war needs to reconsider policies that inhibit victims of war from escaping a conflict zone. Any society that values peace and freedom needs to reassess who is entitled to that same value.  

Finally, if you felt any level of outrage at the treatment of the students and teachers in this imaginary story then next time you hear a real story of people seeking asylum use your indignation to advocate for their universal right to life, liberty and security of person.

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