A severe bushfire, kicked off by a windstorm, is raging on the hills above us. There are reports of casaulties and we’re expecting dozens of evacuated residents to arrive any second.

A group of 16- and 17-year-olds, working with Red Cross, are all action as they get ready for the influx of casaulties. They’re setting up stretchers, preparing a first aid station and ensuring evacuees have a safe place to rest when they arrive in the hall, now functioning as a Civil Defence Centre.

Despite the urgency, the windstorm and bushfire aren’t real. They’re part of a training scenario designed to test the emergency skills the teens have learnt during the Youth in Emergency Services (YES) programme.

Red Cross works with St John, the New Zealand Fire Service (structure and rural), Police, Urban Search and Rescue, Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR), Coastguard, Surf Lifesaving, local councils and Civil Defence to deliver the YES programme. During a week-long camp, teenagers train with different teams to learn what response agencies do. After the camp, the students have the opportunity to volunteer with the organisations.

Red Cross youth coordinator Fiona Sawers says the YES programme gives students a taste of what it takes to help during emergencies.

“It’s an opportunity for young people to develop really useful skills, gain confidence and learn from the agencies on the ground. It’s about giving them that practical experience now, but it will also inspire them to stay involved.”

The final scenario will test everything the students have learnt. As well as the bushfire, teams have to contend with a lost hunter, collapsed buildings and several injured residents. The injuries are created by make up, fake blood and some choice acting by locals, while a bonfire burning in the back field stands in for the bushfire.

The programme is pretty full on but the teens get a lot out of it. Seventeen-year-old Sophie Smithies, one of the students taking part, says she has really enjoyed the camp.

“It’s just been really fun. We’ve learnt heaps.”

Helping young people grow skills

Red Cross works with Civil Defence and emergency response agencies to deliver YES in Canterbury and Northland. Get in touch with your local Red Cross service centre to find out more.