The Prevent Detect Escape fire safety course aims to help people with disabilities prepare for emergencies

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James Griffiths was nine when his family home in Ivanhoe, New South Wales caught fire.

There were no visible signs of fire, but he recalls the smell of smoke escalating before the family decided to move out of the house.

“As we exited the front we could see smoke billowing from under the house,” Mr Griffiths said.

“We could see flames and hear creaking and soon after the house burned to ashes.”

It only took twenty minutes for the old fibro house, which was raised on stilts, to burn to the ground.

“It was like a matchbox – once it started it just went up and didn’t stop,” Mr Griffiths said.

“I had never been in or seen a house fire before.

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Danger “different in reality”

Eighteen years ago, Mr. Griffiths lost his sight due to a medical condition, which dramatically changed his ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies.

“When I was younger I was very independent, then when I went blind I had to ask for a lot more help and a lot more assistance,” he said.

“I have to rely on everyone, [particularly] in an emergency.

Michelle Young explains that the course covers the main aspects of fire safety.(Provided: LIF)

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) in conjunction with Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) has rolled out an e-learning module to do just that.

The Prevent Detect Escape course is for at-risk members of the community, including those living with disabilities, to help them better plan for fire emergencies in their homes.

“We often see people overestimating their ability to escape a fire or deal with a fire,” said RIF Deputy Community Safety Commissioner Michelle Young.

“When they are actually confronted with [a fire]it’s quite different actually.”

A man in a dark suit stands in front of a microphone.
Gavin Thompson says the course will help vulnerable people prepare for life-threatening situations.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Callum Marshall)

“Extremely Valuable” Course

On average, 18 people die each year in residential house fires in Victoria.

Of these, 62% have a disability.

“While everyone is at risk in a house fire, there are obviously people at higher risk,” said Gavin Thompson, acting chief executive of the CFA.

The course takes approximately 40 minutes to complete online.

“It’s extremely valuable for those who haven’t thought about emergency preparedness,” Mr Griffiths said.

“For me it was a great reminder, and for those who haven’t thought about fires yet and what they should do in the event of a home fire, it would be a really good eye-opener.

“It’s very easy to read, it’s good for the visually impaired, it’s good for a lot of disabilities – there are movies, there are games, you can stop it and learn at your own pace.”

The course is aimed at people aged 65 and over, people living with disabilities, mental illness and other at-risk groups, including people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, but it is accessible to all members of the community.

“We recognize that everyone would need a little extra education in this area…so they can assess their ability to deal with and properly escape a fire,” Ms Young said.

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