Hidden Disabilities fire truck leads the way at Adelaide Pageant

Trade Trucks speaks to the key people behind the brilliantly decorated fire truck that led proceedings at 2023's Adelaide Christmas Pageant.

The merry scenes of the Christmas Pageant never fail to light up the streets of Adelaide. South Australia’s capital comes together to mark the beginning of the holiday season with ‘floats’, bands and performances as far as the eye can see.

If you start your camp at midnight the previous day, you might even get some of the best seats in the house. This year, the parade leader was turning heads not just for its stunning presentation, but also its important message.

The Adelaide Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) and the SA government’s Office for Autism partnered to present the ‘Hidden Disabilities’ fire truck, with the primary aim to start the conversation about the prevalence of autism in the community.

A fully active fire truck from the fleet was wrapped in a brilliant bright green pattern with the Hidden Disabilities sunflower dotted all over it. Recognised as an international symbol of autism, it’s hard not to see the sunflower-covered truck coming around the corner, with lights blaring and sirens wailing.

SA assistant minister for autism Emily Bourke has been at the forefront of the Office for Autism since its inception in 2022. It acts as an advisory body to the state government on all legislative matters related to autism.

One in four families are affected by autism in some way, she says. The collaboration with the MFS came about in an effort to increase the visibility of both the Hidden Disabilities initiative, and raise awareness for the work that is being done within the South Australian community.

“The MFS community was advocating that we need to be raising awareness of hidden disabilities,” Bourke tells Trade Trucks.

“Through the work we were doing at the Office for Autism in creating policy to take down some of the barriers the autistic community are facing, they reached out and said they’d be happy to do something with one of their fire trucks.

“We were able to find a way forward and said Hidden Disabilities is something we’d really like to be promoting in South Australia, so that we can be having that conversation. It’s really important that we can have the sunflower symbol in front of a family event that everyone loves.

“It was the very first float to lead the Pageant, and a really good symbol of what we’ve been able to achieve in South Australia. I’ve had people contact us and say they got quite emotional seeing the fire truck at the beginning.

“For those that weren’t quite sure what it meant, it starts a conversation for the community who aren’t quite sure what a hidden disability is as well. We had two great wins there.”

The MFS says it is extremely proud to be a part of the initiative, especially in such a visible way. The prestigious honour of leading the Pageant is certainly not lost on CEO Michael Morgan.

A member of the MFS for nearly 39 years, he says that community outreach has become more important than ever for the organisation. In 2016, the organisation decked out one of its trucks in bright pink, for breast cancer awareness.

Using a fully operational truck, which Morgan says “could be anywhere in Adelaide at the moment” for the event and beyond makes supporting the Hidden Disabilities initiative even more important for the MFS.

“Fire trucks are very visible, they’re easy to see with the lights and sirens – they attract a lot of attention. It was a great opportunity to use a fire truck,” he says.

“It’s one of the vehicles we use not only in the CBD, but the outer suburbs as well. Even the other day I was coming back from a meeting, and I was stuck at the lights. I could see the two trucks coming around Victoria Square.

“It really looked fantastic seeing it go past with lights flashing and sirens wailing. I was in uniform so I could see people looking at the truck then looking at me like ‘what is that?’

“I love being part of projects like this where we can use our presence to promote worthwhile things. For me, it’s a natural synergy. The work we do as firefighters and emergency services is community focused, and this is just another opportunity for us to be able to utilise that understanding.”

The other big part of the Pageant for the MFS was the chance to host an open day. Morgan says the amount of people passing by headquarters on Wakefield Street provided a natural opportunity.

This year, with the partnership for Office for Autism, there was a focus on the messages behind the Hidden Disabilities initiative. The fire station provided sensory rooms for anyone who may need them, while Office for Autism workers were around to provide assistance.

With a focus on education and awareness, Morgan believes it was a brilliant success.

“Often if you look at a fire station anywhere in the world, they’re quite imposing buildings. We really focus now on community engagement around safety messaging, particularly with young people,” he explains.

“It’s an opportunity for people to come up to firefighters and ask questions about the trucks. We’re really proactive about trying to engage with our community at different levels – schools, kindergartens, senior schools. The truck really is one of those really good drawcards to have conversations around that.

“We’ve literally got thousands of people coming into the fire station, and it’s a little chaotic at first. We have fire trucks, displays, we cut up motor vehicles to recreate road crash rescue, abseiling from the tower, urban search and rescue dogs. It’s a big day.

“To be able to have that area was a really good connection into the whole day.”

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