top of page
  • Writer's pictureCEO

Celebrating 140 Years: An Introduction to a Year of Memories

As we enter a new year there is much to look forward to at the Museum. These school holidays are already very busy with extra weekday fire engine rides available thanks to the dedication of our volunteers. The 2023 Art Competition Exhibit has also opened and will remain on show throughout the summer. The 2023 theme was “rescue”, and the caliber of entries was very high which has made the judging process very difficult. The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held later this month. While all the panel awards have been decided there is still time to vote for the people’s choice award until Friday 12 January, to vote now click here.

Museum of Fire 2023 Art Competition
The first page of the first ever MFB Annual Report produced for the year 1884 [Museum of Fire Collection]

This year marks 140 years since the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), which today is known as Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW). Prior to this there were fire brigades in Sydney, however they were operated independently by various businesses or local communities, (for more on this early history you can read the Museum’s blog). The establishment of the 1884 Fire brigades Act created one firefighting body for Sydney. All brigades had to now register with the newly formed governing body of the MFB and had to meet certain requirements to remain active. Due to these tight rules many of the fully volunteer brigades were unable to continue operating in Sydney and were soon replaced by MFB sanctioned brigades.

One of the first acts undertaken by the new MFB was to purchase land for a new Central Fire Station, which at the time was referred to as the “Chief Station”. This site would go on to house what today is known as City of Sydney Fire Station (COS). Two other sites were also purchased for a Northern and Southern Branch (localised offices) to be established. Remember at this time without modern technology and communications Sydney was a large place so a well-dispersed operational fire brigade was considered essential. Once these three stations were built the MFB intended to divide Sydney into multiple fire districts to aid management.

Unfortunately, progress on these three initial MFB stations was largely slow, however while the three main stations were delayed the MFB’s first suburban station was quickly erected in Marrickville and opened for operation by April 1886. This was an example of where the MFB acted quickly to establish a brigade where the former volunteer brigade (in this case Petersham VFB) were unable to meet the standards required of the Fire Brigades Act. In 1913 this Marrickville station was re-named Stanmore after another station opened in Marrickville and was named Marrickville. The MFB 1886 station building was closed in 1991.

Later in 1886 one of the planned main stations was opened as No. 2 George Street West, on what is today known as Broadway Street. The station remained in operation until 1954-5 when it was closed. There are no known clear photographs of this station, and the Museum has spent many years trying to track some down so if you do know of any please reach out!

Two years later, in 1888 the main central station (today COS) was completed and became operational. Thus, the MFB now had its official headquarters in place and today this remains the oldest still operational fire station within NSW. To read more about the oldest operational stations in NSW please see the History Week Blog from 2020.

The last MFB Board 1909, with Shand Mason steamer #18: Seated L to R Alderman Taylor. Arthur, Bown (Chairman), Love (Vice-Chairman), Alderman Kelly, Tinley, back row L to R: Superintendent Webb, Deputy Sparks [Museum of Fire Collection]

The third main station that was originally earmarked for construction in 1884 would not be completed until 1893 when it was finally opened as No. 3 Circular Quay Fire Station. In 1947 the station was re-located to The Rocks to make way for the new Sydney train line at Circular Quay. At this time the name was also changed to The Rocks.

This early history explains why COS holds such an important place within the heritage of FRNSW and why as we enter the 140th year of FRNSW I’m sure it will play a key role in celebrations.

Twenty Firefighters became the original MFB permanent crew on 1 July 1884 when they were assigned to the temporary central headquarters on Bathurst Street. This building had housed the Insurance Company Fire Brigade which had been formed back in 1851. All these firefighters transferred from the Insurance Brigade (so were well accustomed to the temporary station), except for three who were former members of No. 1 Volunteer Company and one firefighter who travelled to Australia from the London Fire Brigade. Each of these men have a unique and interesting story so throughout the year we look forward to sharing this with you in further blogs. Of these twenty men, one would go on to become the Superintendent of the Adelaide Fire Brigade, sadly two would die while attending fires, and the longest serving of these men would remain in the MFB (at the time of his retirement it was known as the NSW Fire Brigade, NSW), until 1921 bringing up 37 years of service (not including his prior service with the Insurance Company Brigade).

Insurance Fire Brigade Company Fire Station on the corner of Bathurst and George Street Sydney, 1907 [Museum of Fire Collection]

-Blog by CEO Belinda McMartin


bottom of page