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Station focus - Albury Civic fire station (1863-2016)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate over 150 years of history of Albury fire brigade and the centenary of the Albury Civic fire station. Should you wish to use any of the information and pictures provided we ask that you please reference the Museum correctly and contact the Museum for permission where applicable.

Albury’s early volunteer fire brigade (1863-1875)

In February 1863 an article appeared in the Goulburn Herald talking about the fearful night of recent time when Albury was almost burnt to the ground by a savage fire storm. After a few weeks had passed, steps were taken to create a Volunteer Fire Brigade in Albury. This group consisted of 14 men.

Not much is known about the Brigade that was established at this time, but the public were very supportive of the movement and around £100 (approximately $15,500 today) was raised to purchase an appliance. Unfortunately, the Brigade was short lived with a newspaper article in 1873 stating that, “the Fire Brigade (like most Albury institutions) having died a natural death somewhere about that time, after a short and brilliant (?) existence of about as many months, without ever being called upon to put out a single fire”. The ‘time’ the article is referring to is when the Brigades newly purchased appliance came to rest in a shed behind the Rose Hotel some seven years previously (this would mean the Brigade received their appliance c.1866). Due to its lack of use the landlord of the hotel wanted the appliance off his premises and so it was put up for auction in 1873.

In 1875 it was announced in the local newspaper that Albury’s most infant local organistion, the Fire Brigade would be hosting a fete on the Queen’s Birthday with any funds raised to be used to equip the Brigade. In 1878 the members of the Brigade were listed in the ‘Border Post Almanac’ however after this time the Brigade appears to have died out again.

The establishment of Albury’s ‘second’ volunteer fire brigade (1885)

In 1882 another meeting was once again held to form a volunteer fire brigade. Around 50 locals attended the meeting, however the local council promised to only provide moral support to the Brigade with no monetary support offered. Many believed that a Brigade would be of no use without a reticulated water system in place and argued that in 2 years time this system would be connected and so perhaps then a Brigade should be formed.

It appears that the latter recommendation was followed as there are no references to a Brigade prior to 1884, indeed there was no Brigade presence in Albury during a number of serious fires throughout the year. The first significant fire of 1884 occurred around 1:50am on Saturday morning, 21 June 1884 when fire broke out in the premises of a furniture warehouse in Kiewa Street. The building was one of a number of dilapidated buildings and was not occupied at the time of fire, so by the time it was discovered the fire had a strong hold of the building. There was no chance of saving the building and so without a local fire brigade the local police coordinated with locals to attempt to save the adjoining buildings. Despite their best efforts the fire spread to the Dressmakers next door and another private residence. The entire west side of the street now seemed to be susceptible to fire. Luckily the night was calm with occasional drops of rain and so the police and locals were able to gain control and stop the fire from spreading beyond the already gutted 3 properties. The total losses were insurmountable.

Albury fire brigade 1901 [Museum of Fire collection]
Albury fire brigade,1901 [Museum of Fire collection]

Finally on 22 January 1885 the first meeting for the proposed members of the Albury Brigade was held at McArthur’s Hotel. 34 men were in attendance, all having shown a keen interest to be involved in a new Brigade. The mayor was appointed chair of the meeting and he happily referred to this new group as the ‘Second Albury Brigade’, referencing an earlier attempt to form a Brigade. All 34 men present were signed up as the original Brigade Members and steps were taken to equip the Brigade and begin training immediately. Unlike in the past, public support seemed to be behind this Brigade and so it seemed to be a promising start. Walter Billson was named Captain and having recently arrived in Albury from Beechworth in Victoria, he helped them procure a surplus hose reel from the Beechworth Brigade.

In 1886 Captain Ryan was appointed to the commanding role of the Brigade, and at this time the Brigade was operating out of a shed adjoining the old Rose Hotel on Kiewa Street. It was in the same year that Albury finally received a reticulated water supply, making the job of the Brigade easier. It wasn’t until 1888 that the council granted the Brigade land to build a Station. A galvanised iron and tin shed building was officially handed over to the Brigade on 15 February 1889.

The Fire Brigades Act comes to Albury and the brigade get a new fire station

What seemed to hinder Albury from receiving a new appliance over the years was the remote nature of the town. The cost of transport was substantial but so too was the cost of petrol in such a remote location and so when the Board received new appliances to distribute amongst the NSWFB, Albury did not receive one. A lighter, more manageable appliance was sought for Albury and so in 1914 the Brigade still did not have a new appliance. By the end of the year, it looked as if Albury would never receive their promised appliance as they were informed that no manufacturer worldwide could supply what the Board wished for them to be supplied with. The onset of the First World War also caused further delay as the British War Office prevented the shipment of newly made fire appliances to Australia, as a wartime measure for Britain. The good news for the Brigade, however, was that a site had now been chosen in Kiewa Street for the erection of a new Fire Station.

As early as 1910, when the Fire Brigades Act was first extended to Albury, the Brigade requested that a new Fire Station be built to replace the barn that they were currently using. It wasn’t until June 1915 that tenders were invited for the erection of a new Fire Station. This was largely due to the fact that for the first half of 1915 the Board of Fire Commissioners and the local Council could not agree on the plans for the new Station. The builder signed a contract on 13 September 1915 and proposed March as the finish date. This came and went, due largely to weather enforced delays. Eventually they came to an agreement and a brand-new Station was finally opened on 18 August 1916. The new building cost £3,160 (approximately $276,000 today), was made of brick and consisted of an engine room, watch room, recreation room, workshop and also had a number of living quarters and the conveniences that come with them; this was to better house a Permanent Firefighter in Albury. It was decided that upon the resignation of Captain Ryan, Firefighter Grinton, the station’s permanent officer, would officially take command of the Brigade.

Tanker incident, 1969 [Museum of Fire collection]
Tanker incident, 1969 [Museum of Fire collection]

The changing face of the Albury fire brigade

Today, Albury is serviced by three Fire Brigades; North, Central and Civic. These Brigades each have station areas that they are primarily responsible for protecting. In the early days of the Albury Fire Brigade they serviced the entire town. Due to the size of Albury, delays could often be experienced in responding to fires depending on the location of the fire. Therefore, in 1917 a new system was introduced to alert the Brigade to the location of the fire without them having to travel to the station first. Albury was divided into five regions; the central CBD, North, South, East and West. Each district was allocated a call sign:

CBD – Continuous Ringing of Fire Bell

North – 1 Dong then continuous Ringing of fire bell

South – 2 Dongs then continuous Ringing of fire bell

East – 3 Dongs then continuous Ringing of fire bell

West – 4 Dongs then continuous Ringing of fire bell

Albury Civic fire station, c. 1980 [Museum of Fire collection]
Albury Civic fire station, c. 1980 [Museum of Fire collection]

In 1950 a resident Retained Firefighter was appointed to Albury Fire Station and therefore housed at the Station to assist with the maintenance of the Brigade. The first firefighter to hold this position was R. Keen. He and his wife moved into the Station and were responsible for all fire calls received when the Station-Officer was off-duty. It wasn’t until 1954 that steps were taken to appoint a Captain from the retained staff at Albury Fire Station to relieve the Station Officer officially when he went on leave. The man appointed as the first Captain of Albury since 1916 was J. Smithenbecker.

The fire station is closed (1981-83)

Owing to the growth of Albury a second Fire Station was officially opened at North Albury on 29 May 1969 with B. Gerrard as Captain. Further development and progress in Albury then led to the decision to increase the number of permanent staff on duty at Albury Fire Station in 1978 and this ultimately led to the decision to build a larger, more modern Fire Station to accommodate the Brigade. A large block of land in Mate Street was purchased in 1978 for $30,000 (equivalent to approximately $145,150 today), and in 1979 architects were commissioned to plan a 4-bay station with all necessary modern conveniences. The building cost approximately $275,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 million in 2016), and on 11 November 1981 at 2:30pm the Brigade left their old Station and transferred the appliances to their modern facility.

Termo hotel fire, 2005 [Museum of Fire collection]
Termo hotel fire, 2005 [Museum of Fire collection]

In early 1982, only a few months after the closure of the old Station a report was issued on the possibility of re-opening the old Station (the official opening of the new station had not yet even taken place, occurring on 23 July 1982). The advantageous location of the old station meant that it was strategically placed to augment the fire protection of Albury. Due to this, it was decided to re-open the old Station, which meant finding a crew to staff a third Fire Station in Albury. To do this the number of permanent staff authorised for the Station on Mate Street was increased and many of the retained staff transferred back to the old Station. This included Harold Byrnes, who had held the position of Captain at the old Station and was re-appointed as Captain of the old Station on its re-opening.

The station is re-opened as Albury Civic (1983)

An issue that arose was the naming of the stations. The Station on Mate Street had simply become known as ‘Albury’ when the crew transferred there in 1981, which now left the question of what the old station on Kiewa Street was to be called when it re-opened. The answer was to name the Station on Mate Street ‘Albury Central’ and the old Station on Kiewa Street ‘Albury South’. The name of the Kiewa Street Station was eventually changed in April 1983 from ‘Albury South’ to ‘Albury Civic’ as it is still known today.

-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team


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