Serge Rosato, whose Buena Vista home was razed to the ground last Thursday, was at pains to explain that this was not a story from the Book of Job.
The principal of St Thomas Aquinas, who led his students on a 2.5km walk to safety last Thursday afternoon while flames closed in around the school, said the bible story of Job [about a man who lost everything] was one of despair and this was one of hope.
“We’re banding together, we’re a community that’s why we live here.”
Mr Rosato, who led children past flames, lost everything in the fire and when The Gazette caught up with him at Sunday mass he was wearing newly purchased clothes “K-mart specials” that his niece had rushed out to buy him that frightening night.
His 17-year-old twins, a daughter and son in Year 11, were in lockdown for five hours at St Columba’s during the firestorm, taking shelter from the fire which came through a valley between the two schools, believed to be started by power lines of Linksview Road.
“I had complete trust in their teachers that they would be safe.”
Leading his young flock of 550 to safety after numerous head counts along first Paulwood [where three homes burned] and Hawkesbury Road [another three gone] , he said “it was done in a really calm way, we had a walkathon three weeks ago and it was the same walk”.
“It was like a dress rehearsal,” St Columba’s
acting principal, Phil Stewart added, “you wouldn’t believe it.”
Three children had asthma attacks and one disabled child had to be carried by a teacher almost the entire way during the exodus out to the shops where donuts and other goodies were offered while they waited out the firestorm. It was there he and another teacher learned their homes had gone.
“The kids I suppose knew something was on, they talked about kids things and supported each other —I think they were listening to their
teachers, they were really looking to the teacher to the teacher’s demeanour.”
While a message from the Vatican was read out during Sunday’s service, Mr Rosato, who usually plays guitar and sings at the mass, chose instead to meet quietly with sombre parishioners who hugged him and thanked him for his bravery.
“Serge is a great man,” said school parent and Deputy Mayor Clr Brendan Luchetti. “A hero.”
“This week St Thomas Aquinas and St Columba’s College had planned to bring in 28 counsellors to assist shocked children. Fifteen families, including four teachers, lost homes.”
The school planned to re-open today but by Monday as residents were back on high alert, the school management admitted they needed to close for the entire week.
Mr Rosato said the “routine of coming to school, catching up with mates, it’s a big part ... It lets the child know that their world hasn’t turned on its head[but] it’s going to be different.”
As for his own loss, Mr Rosato was reflective. “Like all families who have lost a home we will deal with [this] in our own way ...we are lucky, we have a bed, others in my street [in Buena Vista where more than 40 homes were destroyed] were renting and have no insurance, nothing.”
Both principals said they were proud of their students and “so grateful” to emergency services who bussed them all to safety. “These guys are amazing,” Mr Rosato said pointing to NSW Fire and Rescue who have set up a command post in his school hall, “they do it without any fanfare”.