Students prove sceptics wrong and thrive in the Civil Defence


They may have two years to go before sitting the Leaving Cert, but students at two Kilkenny schools have already passed some of the toughest tests life can offer.

The transition year students at Thomastown and Johnstown Vocational Schools have joined the Civil Defence and taken on the duties involved, from fire-fighting and stewarding to search-and-recovery operations.

The project was the idea of the Civil Defence's head officer in Kilkenny, Mr Noel Bourke, and was launched as a pilot scheme in Thomastown last year.

It has been so successful that the organisation's auxiliary fire services officer in Kilkenny, Mr Dave Smyth, says it should be copied in other counties. "It's a great confidence-builder for the young people involved and gets them to stand up and think for themselves.".

In Thomastown, where the school principal, Mr Tim O'Mahony, is involved in the Civil Defence, a unit of about 20 students was set up. It had its own leaders and took on "exactly the same duties and the same risks as anyone else in the organisation", said Mr Smyth.

The project has been continued in Thomastown this year and extended to Johnstown.

Nowadays Civil Defence members have to be skilled in areas like fire-fighting, orienteering and river rescues, and the students have taken to training programmes enthusiastically.

Unlike many school activities, there's been practice as well as theory, even in the most grim tasks undertaken by the Civil Defence. The students took part in the recovery of a badly decomposed body in Kilkenny city after a search was started for a man who had been missing for a fortnight.

While the students obviously benefit from their involvement in the organisation, the Civil Defence wins as well, says Mr Smyth.

Many will go to college but may return to the organisation with "positive skills" to offer in later years, while those who remain at home after leaving school are likely to stay with the Civil Defence, he believes.

Mr Smyth was "one of the sceptics" when the idea of student involvement in the organisation was first mooted, but he's happy to acknowledge that the students of Thomastown and Johnstown have proved him wrong.