Fire Services in Kiama
The first call for the establishment of a Kiama Fire Brigade was made in 1878. Nothing further was done until 1888, when a requisition for a brigade was presented to the Mayor, Henry Noble. It was signed by 30 residents of the town, and presented at a public meeting held in the Council Chambers. The Mayor remarked on the "very poor means the town of Kiama had for extinguishing fire," adding that the houses were close to one another and, in case of fire, had only private tanks to depend on. He also said that the main drawback in forming a fire brigade was the scarcity of water. He thought it was wise to have a fire engine, the cost of which could easily be met by the residents of Kiama.
Mayor Noble said that there were plenty of young men in Kiama who could form a first-class brigade and he "would now leave the matter in their hands to be dealt with as they thought proper. Hesitation continued in Kiama over the adoption of a proper water supply scheme, and therefore a fire brigade. When the township finally decided on a scheme, the pipes were no sooner placed along Terralong Street, ready for installation, when two great fires (October 1& December 15 1899) levelled the town’s commercial precinct, destroying 22 businesses.
R.M. Hindmarsh and W.Kelly were selected as first and second lieutenants, Percy Somerville secretary (succeeded by Mr Bullen in December 1901) and W.J. Cocks treasurer. Dr R. Beith volunteered to act as honorary surgeon to the brigade. Fourteen members were enrolled. Original members of the fire brigade included: Captain P.C.Davies, Apparatus Officer F.W.Bullen, Firemen J.Walker, P.Walker, M.Ettingshausen, J.Carson, G.G.Tory, R.W.Hindmarsh, W. Kelly, E.A.Parker, H.Walker, J.O’Toole, W.J.Cocks, and G.Rowland.
On Wednesday 19th December 1900 it was resolved to build a fire station somewhere on the reserve from a £75 grant from the State Government.
On 6th March 1901, at a meeting of the Kiama Fire Brigade held at the Council Chambers, two tenders were received for the erection of a fire station. The lowest being £37 18s 6p from Martin Ettingshausen. Having only £75 at its disposal, it was thought at least £40 would be required for the purchase of fire extinguishing equipment. This would leave only £35 for the erection of the station. To the sound of great applause, Mayor Hindmarsh offered to make up any shortfall.
It was decided that the Apparatus Officer, Mr Bullen, be sent to Sydney to purchase £40 worth of equipment, including 300 ft of 2½ inch hose and hose reel. It was also moved that Mr James Walker be appointed to supervise the erection of the fire station. The Mayor, Mr K. Ryan and a member of the insurance companies were appointed as members of the local fire brigade board. Mr Bullen completed his purchase of equipment on 8th March, and it arrived at the wharf on 9th March. It was housed in a convenient place till the station was completed.
On 26 April 1901, the Mayor said he was happy for the brigade to have water laid to the station and be used free of charge. This was later ratified by Council. The brigade was also granted 1,000 ft per quarter free use of gas.
A site for the fire station was decided upon by the Mayor and the Brigade. It was to be erected on the south-east corner of the reserve, at the corner of Terralong and Shoalhaven Streets, and a few feet on the western side of the then fire bell.
A fire station was erected at a cost of £39, with about the same amount in securing a horse cart and fire extinguishing plant.
Mr William Corkhill was sent from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Board to give instruction to members of the Kiama Volunteer Fire Brigade, on how to work at a fire and how to use the fire-extinguishing appliances. He did so on 7 May 1901 in the new fire station. Open air drill was done each evening for a week after that. He stayed with Mr. Kelly (Second Lieutenant), which saved the Brigade from paying for lodgings.
Mr Corkhill said the Brigade’s greatest drawback was the want of more hose, and he advised them to collect sufficient money to purchase at least 1000 feet more.
With the establishment of a well trained Fire Brigade in town, interest turned to the insurance companies. They were charging exorbitant rates to residents, averaging about 27s 6d in the £100. Kiama had been placed under the “E", or highest rated list. There was a loud call for a reduction in the price of fire insurance, as the public had minimised the risks at their own expense. A petition was signed and the Mayor called a public meeting for 7pm on 19 July 1901.
This meeting fell through, and on 7 April 1902, a meeting of local fire insurance agents was held at the fire station, organised by the brigade. They felt that the public were entitled to some benefit as they had subscribed over £25 to the fire brigade. Captain Davies read a letter from Mr Minnett, a member of the Underwriters’ Association’s Board, which stated the Board’s intention to consider several towns that had water laid on, Kiama being one of them. It was decided there be a public meeting to put the case to the Underwriter’s Association.
On 3 February 1902, it was decided, with the grant of £50, to erect a fence around the fire station, purchase a quantity of hose and erect bell posts on the railway property near Barney Street (at a charge of 1/- per year.)
The annual meeting of the brigade on 26th June 1903, mentioned that not a great deal of material had been added to the appliances owing to a lack of support given to the brigade. The Chairman said they did not receive the support a volunteer fire brigade should. All that had been received from subscriptions during the year was £13. He thought the Council should contribute something towards the brigade. The Fire Underwriters’ Association, Government or Council had not contributed anything that year and unless they did there was talk of the brigade’s survival. However, added was 150 feet of 2½ inch practise hose and fittings, together with an alarm bell (£11 9s), and another bell erected in Collins Street. To date the brigade owned: 1110 feet of hose and fittings, three alarm bells, and implements of best quality, valued at £150.
Also, up to this point, the promise made by the Fire Underwriters’ Association to reduce the rate of fire insurance in Kiama had not been fulfilled. Fireman Cocks was of the opinion that property owners would contribute more to the brigade once rates were reduced. Fireman James Walker suggested a ball to raise funds for the brigade.
As of June 21st 1904, the brigade had a total of 1760 feet of hose. For that year, 600 ft of 2½ inch Rob Roy hose had been added, including 10 life lines, 2 helmets, 4 lamps, and 2 x 50 ft rescue ropes. The station had been lined throughout, as protection of the appliances from dust. The Station building and all appliances had been insured for £165. The brigade held another ball with proceeds going towards the brigade appliances.
It was reported at the fifth annual general meeting on 4 July 1905, that the brigade held 26 practices during the year, and periodically made inspections of hydrants, thus familiarising them with their location. The gear of the brigade was in excellent condition and gradually increasing.
As a safeguard against fire at the Oddfellows Hall, the brigade offered the services of two men and necessary appliances during concerts. Finances were in a much better state, mainly through Government assistance by subsidy. However, the Fire Underwiters had not contributed anything over the past two years.
Using great foresight, the brigade had stored equipment (a stand pipe & 100 feet of hose) in Mr Walker’s residence at Barney Street. A fire bell was also placed on Railway Dept. land in Barney Street where Captain Davies and two other firemen lived.
This second station was of great value as was shown with the fire at Hunt’s Brewery, where before the alarm had been sounded at No.1 station, four of the brigade were at work at the fire with gear supplied from the Barney Street Station, before the arrival of the panting station crew with the hose cart.
On 17 June 1907, after this fire, and by arrangement with the Railway Dept. a new hose cart and gear was housed in a small building adjacent to the railway bridge. It was rented from the Railway Commissioners for 3/– per annum.
On 13 January 1911 came the first false alarm for the brigade. At about 2.00am in the raging northerly gales, the fire bell adjoining the fire station gave a clang or two, and again shortly after daylight. It appears a hose was hung out to dry on the appliance fixed to the bell post. The flapping about of the hose must have caught the bell rope.
In 1910, a survey of the fire district was undertaken by Divisional Inspector G.Dadd. He reported:
"Kiama is one of the best towns of the State......but the station is too small. A larger station and light (horse drawn) hose carriage with curricle ladders is needed because of the number of two storey buildings and the hilly terrain".
On 17th October 1911, Captain Webb, chief of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, visited Kiama for the purpose of inspecting the local fire brigade’s gear and property. He found everything in excellent order, and paid high tribute to Captain Davies. As a result of the visit, it was expected that in the near future a new fire station would be erected, and a motor fire engine installed for the purpose of dealing with fires outside the reticulation area.
At a Council Meeting on 12th March 1913, Council decided not to make any objections to the Government resuming a piece of land in the municipality on which to erect a more up-to-date fire station, or to have additions made to the present building. However, in reality, the Council was not happy with the board acquiring a further 10 metres of frontage in Terralong Street with the view to either extending or rebuilding the station and closing the South Kiama station. The Council wished to run the brigade itself with financial backing from the government and insurance companies.
At a meeting of Kiama Council on 26th August 1914, Council put forward its objection to the Fire Brigades Act. They wanted Municipal control of the Brigade.
Also, Council was against the use of turbine engines. At a Kiama Council Meeting on 9th September 1914, the Council again opposed the use of a turbine engine, but all in favour of a new fire station.
At a Kiama Council Meeting on 18th November 1914, it was reported that the Fire Commission had recommended doing away with No.2 Fire Station in Barney Street. It was moved a letter be sent mentioning the fact that fires at the Brewery and Mrs. Major’s residence had been prevented due to No.2 station. Also, the brigade had worked hard to get the station there, and had built the place without cost to the Commission.
In 1927, the hose shed at South Kiama was closed. On 2 December 1914, at a Kiama Council meeting, it was reported that a sum of money had been received for a new Fire Station.
It was reported at the Council meeting that Commissioner Shepherd decided that a new fire station should be erected and that the present building be moved back and used for other purposes.
A letter read from Mr. Shepherd, intimated that the Board of Fire Commissioners has approved of the plans for a new fire station, which were sent to Council for inspection.
In February 1915, Captain Davies resigned, with Walter Cocks being appointed Captain. The Board was determined to go ahead with rebuilding the Number One Station.
The Board’s Clerk of Works, George Broadhurst, was directed to draw up plans for "a modest fire station", bearing in mind the Council’s attitude towards expenditure. Broadhurst complied, designing a small engine room, with the present wood and iron station being placed at the rear for use as a recreation and watch room, with an annexe under on the steeply sloping ground for a store, bath and lavatory.
Broadhurst calculated the cost at £375, and must have been shocked when the lowest tender came in at £669. Tenders were called again in May 1915. The quote of Messrs. J. Light and Son was accepted for £525. A choice which would be later greatly regretted.
Building started in July 1915 and in December the Council was notified that the job had been completed. However, Council was far from happy with the workmanship of the building, pointing to cracks in walls, bad door fittings, poor asphalt laying, loose bricks, sloppy painting, leaking roof, etc.
The Board concurred with Council, agreeing the work was rough and far from ready. They were highly critical of the builder, with the clerk of works being asked why the job was not supervised more thoroughly. In fairness to George Broadhurst, the Board had him involved in over fifty different maintenance works at the time and Kiama station was not considered foremost in the schedule. Sadly, George Broadhurst died suddenly in October 1916.
On March 7 1916, the station was officially opened, after the builder had carried out repairs. However, such was the disappointment with the structure, the Board did not send a representative.
It was reported at a Council meeting in May 1920 that it was of the opinion of the Fire Commissioners Board’s construction officer , to under-pin the walls of the fire station and take down a portion of the wall in the south west corner, at a cost of £50. Alderman Carson thought theBoard should carry out the work as the building was not long erected.
Makeshift measures had to be repeatedly taken as further cracks appeared, doors sagged and floor timbers were attacked by borers and dry rot over subsequent years.
A major problem with the building was that the ceiling joists were constructed of far heavier timber than the floor joists. This led one inspecting officer to comment, "something is wrong with this building."
Around April, 1926, a new motor fire wagon was attained by the fire station, a converted Dodge.
A report was made by the Board’s mechanic in 1928 regarding the occasional breakdown of the hose motor, owing to overloading. It seems the brigade members would all climb aboard when responding to a fire call, with detrimental effect on the clutch and springs. He recommended no further purchase of light vehicles.
Around July 1926, the fire station got a new coat of paint, greatly improving its appearance.
In May 1931, Council agreed to pay half the cost of constructing a fence around the fire station, with work completed in August of the same year.
It was the early 1930’s which saw relations between the Board and Council improve. As a gesture of goodwill, the Board appointed the town’s Turncock as an honorary member of the brigade.
In September 1931, Captain Cocks had his left leg amputated as a result of diabetes. In April 1932, he resigned from the brigade after 32 years of service, 18 of these as captain. Nesbit Carson was appointed Captain from May 1. Carson was also mayor of Kiama at the time. Walter Cocks died in May 1933.
In May 1935, Captain N.W.Carson resigned from his post, leaving Kiama for Macksville. He was succeeded by Captain Walter Holden on September 1 1934.
It was not long before friction developed between Captain Holden and Engine Keeper Otto Tory. Tory believed he should have been appointed Captain and made his feelings known. Unfortunately, Tory had been unable to secure work in Kiama, resulting in him only being available at the station on weekends. His resignation was requested and supplied. He had been a member since 1909.
In July 1935, Fireman Lucas was given the gold bar for 30 years service.
August 1938 saw the Show Pavilion at Church Point destroyed by fire. The gale force winds and feeble water supply gave the brigade no chance to save it. The Pavilion had played an important part in town social activities and its loss was regretted.
The loss of the Pavilion along with other problems of water supply led the Board to decide that Kiama’s fire protection needed to be improved. In October 1939, the brigade received its first motor fire engine, Number 68 Garford appliance with Hale pump. Unfortunately, this truck could not handle the hilly Kiama terrain, capable of doing no more than 20 mph without a crew, uphill. Fortunately, Kiama’s fire problems were minimal during WWII.
During WWII, Kiama Fire Station was the location for lectures and demonstrations, namely on incendiary bombs. There was also demonstration of rescue work by ladder, bo’suns chair and flying fox.
When news of the end of WWII reached Kiama, the fire brigade joined in the festivities.
March 1946, saw the resignation of fireman Walker after 30 years service in the brigade.
Number 68 Garford appliance was replaced in June 1946 by Number 208 Dennis. This truck also found the terrain challenging, designed mainly for level English streets. They were not up to rough country roads. However, the infrequency of fires meant is was more polished than used.
The end of the war saw the fire station have its first toilet built in the yard, with the Board erecting paling fences around the station property at the same time.
In 1946, Albert Weston, whose family ran the oldest newspaper in the state, “The Kiama Independent," became a volunteer fireman. He had been a member of the brigade’s reserve corps since 1939. The newspaper had been a dedicated supporter of the town’s fire service since its inception. Tragically, Albert died aged 42, in June 1963.
Another death to affect the brigade was that of Richard Holden in 1954. He had been a member since 1908.
Six volunteer firemen from the Kiama brigade were among officers who received 15 years long service medals at a function held at Corrimal in November 1956. A special presentation was also made by the Board of Fire Commissioners to Kiama Captain Wattie Holden in appreciation of his completing 50 years service with the brigade. In addition to his fire service, he had been an alderman of Kiama Council for 23 years and Mayor of Kiama for 11 years.
Six volunteer firemen from the Kiama Fire Brigade were recognised for long service in November 1956. (back from left) Bert Weston, Bill Boyce, Reg Fisher, Tot Meredith, (front) Rusty Filmer, Wattie Holden (Captain) and Jack McGarry.
On 1st March 1951, long service medals were awarded to Engine-keeper A.J. Scott and Volunteer Fireman C.H.Townsend.
Captain "Watty" Holden died in July 1960, after 53 years in the brigade. His funeral was one of the biggest in Kiama with representatives from five other nearby brigades and from Sydney paying their respects.
In the same week as Walter Holden’s death, former Captain “Nessie" Carson died at Macksville. Both had also been mayors of Kiama.
The new Captain appointed by the Board was W.Stuart Warnock who had joined the brigade in 1937.
Number 208 Dennis Motor was replaced in 1959 by number 123 Dennis “Big Four." But this too found the terrain a task when fully laden with men and equipment.
1966 saw the Dennis superseded by a six-cylinder Bedford.
In 1972, the station doors were damaged when they swung closed as the truck was being reversed in. This was due to the sagging floor timbers. In his report of the incident, Captain Warnock said, at “anytime we may have to use a tow truck to retrieve our motor from the cellar." The floors and doors were quickly repaired, the engine bay floor by concrete.
In 1973, the growing residential area of South Kiama led to the extension of the fire district and the brigade’s strength was increased from 10 to 12. In fact, the actual strength was down to 8 members. A recruiting campaign raised the number to 10 in a few months, and by 1976, the complement of 12 was met.
Captain Warnock , having given 42 years service, retired in August 1979. His role was taken over by Captain John Wright.
Kiama Volunteer Fire Brigade relocated to its new base near the Leisure Centre in August ? 1989.