• Museum of Fire Engagement Officer

Austral Denning FirePac

We’re getting closer and closer to the Museum’s Heritage Day on November 21st! We’ll be pulling vehicles out of storage as voted on by you, so we thought we would take the opportunity to deep dive into one of these featured vehicles.

Poster from the Museum’s collection of the NSW Fire Brigades’ (now Fire and Rescue NSW) Firepac.

This week, we’re taking a look at the Austral Denning Firepac FB3500. You’d be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Austral, a company which has gone by several other names at different points in history and operated only from 1945 to 1998.

The company started up in 1945 and was originally named Athol Hedges. It was then renamed Domino Hedges, then Domino, before being renamed Austral in 1982 when it was purchased by the Australian Manufacturing Group. Austral’s greatest rival in the coach market was Denning. The owners of Denning, Jaguar Rover Australia, bought Austral in 1988 and the companies operated separately until combining and rebranding as Austral Denning in 1992. In 1996, the Jaguar Rover Australia company was sold to the Clifford Corporation and the company rebranded as Austral Pacific before closing down in 1998.

In the 1980s, there was a growing discontent within members of the Queensland fire services over health and safety issues related to the design and construction of fire appliances, namely access issues. Leading up to this, firefighting crews would sit on or in the rear of the vehicle. With the transition of relocating crews to the cab, there were some design issues that required tweaking and fresh ideas. The goal was to ensure that the crew had safe and easy access to the cab without compromising the room available for equipment in the rear of the vehicle. Austral set out to resolve these issues in their design of the Austral Denning Firepac. The company was unique in that they had begun to design and build these appliances solely from the ground up as fire vehicles, rather than working off standard truck chassis designs.

Austral began the design process in 1988, drawing heavily on the 1981 Cougar ARFF vehicle for the cab area design and on the Tourmaster coach for the basic engineering for the chassis and suspension. Initially, the goals set for this design were:

  • Engine: diesel 165-185 kW

  • Power to weight ratio: 17kW/ton min

  • Transmission: auto with top gear lockup or engine driven PTO

  • 0-65 km/hr in 20 secs

  • Max speed: 110 km/hr

  • Water capacity: 1500 (pumper); 3500 (tanker)

  • Pump outputs: 2200, 3400, or 4800 l/min

  • Pump: centre or rear mounted; simultaneous high- and low-pressure discharge; optional foam induction; two hose reels; roof monitor

  • Cabin: Walk-in 2+4 seating; 2 seats with built in BA equipment

  • Body: rear structure all in aluminium, roof access, ladder stowage.

An early sketch of the Austral Denning Firepac from 1988

The first known public airing of the proposal took place in May 1989, when Austral started a series of presentations about a product to be named ‘Firepak’, then in the early stages of concept planning, to Fire Service industry stakeholders in Australia and New Zealand.

Second phase ’Operator Clinics’ were held in 1989, by which time the name of the vehicle had become ‘Firepac’. These clinics aimed to test the designs of the vehicle amongst operations and maintenance personnel, and to collect feedback by which the concepts and outcomes of the first series could be assessed. Austral then set to work on a second series incorporating this feedback. Some of the original goals were tweaked to become:

  • Chassis: Austral integral space frame, all steel construction

  • Cabin: Low entry monocoque, steel and composite panelling, two outward sliding plug doors

  • Suspension: Air suspension with adjustable ride height and service mode

  • Engine: Detroit 8.2 litre, 230 HP (171 kW)

  • Transmission: Allison MTB647 with hydraulic retarder

  • Fire pump: Mid-mount Hale single stage, or series parallel; high pressure hose reel pump

  • Weight: Operational – 11,500 kg; GVM 15,000 kg

In the same year, Austral incorporated this to create the first prototype of the Firepac. It was 8.5m in length and sat on a 4m wheelbase. It made its first public appearance at the South Pacific Fire Conference in Auckland NZ in February 1990 and made at least one demonstration visit to Sydney, stopping off at Katoomba fire station and Greenacre workshops.