The bushfires were closing in around their school. The flames had razed homes and were threatening others. But the teachers and staff of St Thomas Aquinas Primary in Springwood remained calm as they led their pupils 2.5kilometres to safety.
Principal Sergio Rosato gave no indication his own home was one of those lost.
He accompanied his staff and students to the shopping centre at Winmalee, where shopkeepers provided drinks and snacks, and then on to the Springwood Sports Club.
The shifting fire front and road closures prevented some parents from reaching their children until well into the evening, but ''every member of staff stayed with the children until each had been reunited with their families'', Mr Rosato said.
He was reluctant to speak about the devastation of Thursday afternoon, when a colleague's home was also destroyed. But he was full of praise for the teachers, staff and students ''who were wonderful under pressure''.
''We've got 550 kids,'' he said. ''We needed to get them to safety. Every member of staff did their job.''
The children ''were calm, they responded to their teachers and they were guided by their teachers. Without those relationships that they have with their teachers, I don't think they would have been as calm and co-operative.''
Mr Rosato also thanked the shopkeepers at Winmalee ''for looking after our kids and teachers. They got doughnuts, which sweetened things up a little bit.''
Craig Hinley, whose son Benjamin, 6, attends the school, said Mr Rosato ''was unbelievably calm all day''.
''Serge lives in one of the most badly affected streets in Winmalee,'' Mr Hinley said.
''He knew that his house was gone … and he never let it show. He kept the kids completely reassured the whole time. It was very heroic, incredibly selfless.''
Tracey Arnold, whose daughter Sarah and son Luke, are St Thomas students, said Mr Rosato had shown incredible leadership.
''All this was happening while he knew that his house was gone,'' she said.
''He was there for the safety of the children first, without any concern about his personal position.
''I'm totally grateful to him for protecting our children in such a situation.''