Our Everyday Heroes – The Kwinana Volunteer Fire Brigade

Hooray for Spring! The days are getting warmer and although it may still seem like summer is a long way away, it might be a good time of year to start thinking about whether our properties are bush fire ready.

In the 1950s, as the population of Kwinana continued to grow, there was considerable public concern that the new town, surrounded as it was by bushland, needed a professional fire fighting service.

Up until 1955, the Fire Brigade Board (now DFES) had repeatedly refused to finance a service, stating that the Town was too underdeveloped to warrant the expense, however the cost of a professional fire fighting operation was also seen as too expensive for the Kwinana Road Board to pay for themselves.  Hearing this, the community decided to take the matter into their own hands and a resident’s petition of 108 signatures was presented in June 1955, with 22 locals offering to serve as a volunteer force if given the necessary resources.

The motion was put to the Road Board in November 1955 and passed, with Frank Baker nominated as temporary Fire Captain, and Arthur Franklin named as honorary volunteer brigade Secretary.  Joe Varris soon replaced Frank Baker as Captain.

Crowd at Volunteer Fire Brigade inauguration ceremony, 1956.
Kwinana’s first volunteer fire brigade, 1957.  Back l to r: Ross Anderson, Neil Lampard, Lloyd Tamblyn, Ernie Kennedy, John Clements. Middle l to r: Jack Ruler, Fred Holt, Doug Allen, Peter Peters, Frank Mofflin, Cyril Lightbown, Les Hammond. Front l to r: Jim Gordon, Russel White, Joe Varris, unknown, Jim Brown

 

It was a very timely decision too, as on the 30th January 1956, all hell broke loose.  Sparking in the scrub land of Calista and Wellard, a savage bush fire quickly exploded out  of control and giant eucalypts fell to the ground as the sky lit up like fire works.  Most of the neighbourhood homes were wood construction and residents watched in terror as it seemed that their new lives were literally about to go up in smoke.

David Graham shares his memory of the day –

The bush fire soon encircled the town, our home faced the burning bush and we were in the front yard (Bingfield Rd, East) using our hose to keep the roof and the front of the house wetted down in case sparks caused a problem.  Volunteer firemen were manually hauling fire hoses up and down the road from hydrant to hydrant.  I used my utility (a 1928 Model T Ford) to make their job easier.  I was noticed by Dick Mounsey, an engineer from the then Kwinana Road Board.  He needed to get into the bush on tracks that the Kwinana Road Board Holden utility could not manage due to the soft sand.  The old T Model Ford had very large wheels, and I spent the day taking Dick Mounsey wherever he needed to be, taking water, food, and other necessities to the fire fighting crews.  Commissioner McGuigan bought us some beers at the old Kwinana Canteen after the fire had been tamed, and I remember him giving me a bottle of wine to take home to my wife Betty for freeing me up for the day

The tireless work of the volunteers ensured not a single home was lost and a far more substantial gift came to the Group a few months later when they were presented with a brand new fire engine.  With a pumping capacity of 350 gallons and an extension ladder measuring 25 feet, it was a considerable improvement on the manual hydrant system!  Financial recognition of the group’s efforts soon followed, the Road Board setting a rate of one penny in the pound, helping to cover the volunteer’s expenses.

Today, the Kwinana Volunteer Fire and Rescue Group operates out of 10 Chisham Avenue, and continues to provide our community with invaluable assistance in our hour of need.

Kwinana fire station, 1978.

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