Every bushfire season we are comforted by the fact that they are there, but did you ever think that there was a time before our local fire brigades?
In the middle of a heatwave in February 1905 Kurri Kurri residents attended a public meeting in Central Park, now Rotary Park, to discuss forming a fire brigade for their town. The response was a unanimous ‘yes’.
While enthusiasm was high, the fledgling brigade soon hit financial stumbling blocks. They tried to borrow spare fire-fighting equipment from other fire stations, but were unsuccessful and their applications for government grants were refused.
How could the brigade raise the funds necessary to equip themselves and build a fire station? Many suggestions were put forward, but extraordinarily the one which was adopted was that the firemen form a ‘minstrel troupe’ and that they put on fundraising concerts. So the Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade Minstrel and Variety Company formed and their first concert was April that year.
The program consisted of a lot of singing of songs, a mime performance of a shoot-out in American cowboy style, yet more singing of songs, with the evening concluding with a short comical farce which brought much laughter from the audience.
Success! In May 1905 the brigade was given a grant of land on Cessnock Street (now Lang Street) for a fire station. It was an excellent site, next to the new police station being constructed on the corner of Victoria Street. While they waited for their own fire bell the Headmaster of Kurri Kurri Public School offered use of the school bell to ring when they needed to warn residents of a fire.
There was just on-the-job training, so the Minmi Fire Brigade stepped in to assist them with instruction and the Carrington Fire Station sold them a hose and bell.
The Kurri Kurri Volunteer Fire Brigade was up and running, but they had complex emergencies to deal with. As well as the standard domestic fires, it had to attend colliery fires which could be explosive and unpredictable and the brigade didn’t have to wait too long to see how dire this could be.
In October they were called to a serious explosion and fire in the nearby Stanford Merthyr Colliery. Six mine employees were killed, nine injured and the brigade had a true baptism of fire as it worked to extinguish the blaze at the pit top, pouring water down the tunnel to quell the fire inside.
Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade we salute you!