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Catching Up With the CEO and Looking Back at 1922

Welcome to the latest instalment of the Museum’s blog series!

This weekly snapshot from the Museum is a great way for us to keep our loyal supporters up to date with what is going on behind the scenes and promote some of our latest additions to the visitor experience or collection. At the same time, we’ve found that these blogs serve as an introduction to many new faces as they are drawn into our website by a specific topic and begin to explore what else we have to offer. For this reason, I’m so delighted with how this blog has developed over the last 18 months and I enjoy being able to write a regular contribution.

Sometimes, when I’m reminded that my scheduled slot is coming up, I know exactly what I want to say and the words come easy but sometimes the pressing tasks of being CEO take over and I find myself pushing writing these blogs down my to do list.

Impressively, we now have a whole team of capable blog writers so I could easily ask someone to ghost write for me but as someone who LOVES to write and doesn’t get many opportunities anymore, I don’t want to pass up these fleeting opportunities. In previous roles, I also spent a lot of time ghost writing for other CEO’s, famous faces and even Prime Minister’s so I know how thankless a task it can be to a ghost writer. Having said that, everything the Museum produces truly is a team effort, so it’s great to know we have the ability to produce a new blog each week, which is not an easy task as each is toughly researched and checked before being published.

Thus, I find myself penning this blog at a very odd time of day, but I do grab any opportunity to fit in some writing, especially when inspiration strikes; and it has well and truly struck and I’m happy to bring you this operational update and indulge in a brief bit of history (consider it a taster for more stories coming later this year).

Operational Update

Like many other businesses across NSW, we have been grappling with the lingering impacts of the pandemic; specifically lower visitation numbers than we’d have hoped and the effect of staff having to isolate at various times. Ironically, this blog comes to you from isolation as I have found myself a close contact. Frustratingly, I have no symptoms and have continued to test negative but to keep those around me safe, especially our team at the Museum, I am doing the right thing and staying home.

Like everyone else, I was plunged into isolation with no warning and a time that was very inconvenient for the Museum. Adversity will either bring out the best or worst in people and I’m proud to say it has brought out the best in those left to manage things on site at the Museum.

Am I surprised? Of course not! I had every faith in my Executive Assistant Kate, our new Heritage Manager Natasha and one of our newest front of house staff Ben, to manage things on site while I assisted as much as possible remotely (thank goodness for modern technology but all credit goes to them). Not only was I not on site, but neither was our Operations Manager who would generally manage things in my absence.

Natasha, Kate and Ben keeping things shipshape in the Museum shop

While I don’t welcome these challenges, I believe that they serve as a great test of how far we have developed as an organisation since I assumed the role of CEO in June 2020. I consider it the role of all good leaders to empower those around them to operate to the best of their ability by providing them with the tools to learn the necessary skills. In effect, if you are a good leader you will build up the skills of those around you, making you almost redundant.

Sure, there have been some hiccups in the last few days, but the team have rallied, and I couldn’t be prouder. Not that I’m planning on going anywhere but it gives me peace of mind to know that our team is ace!

It hasn’t just been in the last few days that the team have gone above and beyond. Earlier in February, the Museum hosted our first Heritage Day of 2022. Since we launched these free events back in late 2020, they have grown in popularity and so we continue to review how we can make them even better.

In essence, the day is an opportunity for our volunteers to display some rarely seen vehicles on the Museum grounds. To make each day unique, the heritage team endeavour to select vehicles around a central theme. For example, last February all displayed vehicles were produced by Dennis, and this time, they were Internationals (either the brand or from overseas production). Throughout the day, the Historic Fire Engine Association put on displays of historic firefighting, and with the support of Fire and Rescue NSW, we offer fire safety demonstrations as well. The highlight of the day for many is the fire engine rides (these are an additional cost, as is Museum entry).

The most recent Heritage Day has been the most popular so far and we are keen to see how they continue to develop. Watch our social media and website for more information as new dates are revealed.

A selection of vehicles on display at the Museum's February 2022 Heritage Day


Before I end this blog, I need to turn my attention to my favourite topic - history. In my last blog I took a quick look at fifty years ago, 1972 (click here to read) and this time I thought I’d delve into the records briefly from 100 years ago - 1922.

So, what happened 100 years ago in firefighting history?

Five new fire stations were built for existing brigades while one new brigade was established.

Four of the five new stations would eventually be replaced or closed. These were located in Young (replaced in 1938), Armidale (replaced in 1974), Kempsey (replaced in 1988) and Adamstown (permanently closed in 1946). (For more on Adamstown check out this blog)

The fifth station, despite having major renovations in 1976, is still in use. This is in Tumut and our heritage team are in the process of putting together a complete history for a centenary event to be held later in the year. The brigade’s history dates back to the late nineteenth century so there is a lot to cover in the historic publication.

Tumut Fire Station. Photo taken 1989 [Museum of Fire collection]

If that wasn’t keeping them busy enough, the team are also busy producing a book for the centenary of Tweed Heads which was the only new brigade established in 1922. As of 1 January 1922, the brigade was officially operational and in 1924 they moved into their first purpose-built station. The current Tweed Heads Station became operational in 1997.

From an operational perspective the NSW Fire Brigade received a new Chief Officer with Frank Jackson appointed to the position from 1st January. Four new men were added to the strength of the NSWFB’s permanent ranks, bringing the number of permanent firefighters in NSW to 315 in the Sydney district and 52 in the country districts.

Sadly, there were two deaths in service throughout the year. The first was Third Class firefighter William Hamilton Brown on 27 August 1922, who died at a fire when the turntable ladders collapsed in George Street, Sydney. At 3:38pm, No. 1 headquarters (today City of Sydney) Fire Brigade had responded to a fire at Adam’s Café which had taken hold of the building before they arrived. Once on-site, Brown was elevated on the turntable ladders to the roof while two other firefighters; Chappell and Dwyer scaled the ladder. Shortly afterward, without warning, the ladder snapped sending the three firefighters plummeting to the ground. While Chappell and Dwyer recovered from their injuries, Brown died shortly after arriving at hospital.

William Hamilton Brown [Museum of Fire collection]

The second death in service was that of Firefighter Nicholas George Travers who died on 29 October 1922 from injuries received a week earlier when he fell down the firefighter’s pole at Circular Quay Fire Station. The corner returned a verdict of accidental death after it was found that Travers had been sleep walking. As a result of his death, the gradual withdrawal of firefighter’s poles from stations occurred and it wouldn’t be until the late twentieth century that they began to be reintroduced (our team will have more to say on that topic later in the year)!

Things have definitely changed in 100 years across NSW! Just look at the style of new stations, the number of FRNSW staff, the use of firefighter’s poles and the structure of the brigade. Each of these topics and many more will continue to be explored each week on the Museum’s blog and social media. Stay tuned and we hope to see you visiting the Museum one day soon!

- Belinda McMartin, Museum of Fire CEO


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