Station Focus: Bulli Fire Brigade (1918-2019)
*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to commemorate the centenary of Bulli Fire Brigade at a ceremony held on Friday 15 March 2019. 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.
The Formation of a Fire Brigade in Bulli
The first steps for the formation of a fire brigade in Bulli came in 1913 when the local shire approached the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW with the intention of having the Fire Brigades Act extended to the Bulli urban area and for assistance in forming a brigade. Two years later the local council finally furnished a complete report of the town (including information regarding water supply and the urban environment) for the Board. By this time the council did have a few firefighting implements and a shed had been erected for use as a fire station.
On 18 October 1918 the Fire Brigades Act was extended to the Bulli-Woonona Shire .The shed premises were reported to have been in a dilapidated state as it had been some time since the structure was used and no one had been overseeing its ongoing maintenance since no fire brigade was ever formed. None the less repairs were to take place so that it could be occupied from 1 January 1919 by the new Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW Brigade, once formed.
On 14 November 1918 a meeting was hosted by the Board at the old shed fire station with the purpose of selecting candidates for the formation of a brigade. On 21 November 1918 the Board approved those candidates proposed and measurements for uniforms were sent to the Brigade’s storekeeper. The original members of the Brigade were T.J. Conley (Captain and Engine Keeper), G.W. Smith, W.W. Poppett, J. Butler, T.A.E. Ball, S. Colliss, W.F. Rees, A.E. Ball, W.J. Narbeth and N.H. Mann.
Thomas Conway was selected as captain owing to his good character, occupation as the local turncock (the man responsible for controlling the town’s water supply) and due to his previous experience as a firefighter with the Wollongong Brigade (1911-1917). Until the time that a motor fire engine could be made available to the new brigade, Captain Conley offered his own motor car for the use of the brigade in emergencies. He proposed that his vehicle be used to tow the hose reel to and from fires.
First Class Firefighter R. Griffiths from Petersham Fire Station was tasked with providing initial instruction to the newly formed brigade from 2 January 1919. He was recommended for the role after having conducted himself well the previous year when he was appointed to a similar role with the establishment of a brigade at Port Kembla. Griffiths remained with the brigade for three weeks and returned to his duties in Sydney on 27 January 1918.
Bulli Fire Brigade’s New Fire Station
In 1920 the Brigade was approached by the Woonona Citizens Association with the request for three lengths of hose to be stored at Woonona. As the Brigade was called the Bulli-Woonona Fire Brigade this seemed a reasonable request, especially as Woonona was a considerable distance from the fire station. This also became a factor in the Board’s search for new land upon which to build a new fire station. It was hoped that they would find a more centrally located site.
In 1922 the President of the Board visited Bulli himself to finalise the issue of building a new Fire Station. While it was suggested that a more central site be chosen, specifically one closer to Woonona, the issue of the fire protection of the new areas of Thirroul and Austinmer were also raised with it decided that some form of fire protection was required. In October 1921 a major fire occurred at Thirroul causing £4,000 (approximately $314,267 today) damage and destroying three businesses as well as a number of adjoining residences. As a result they were incorporated into the fire district with the name of the district changed to simply Bulli. It seemed that the area expected to be covered by the Brigade was only growing and so the Board recommended that a motor appliance be supplied to assist in this task. The motor was also considered essential to the Brigade due to the hilly nature of the region making it hard for the men to pull the reel.
Despite this progress, two years later the issue of the growing district was still being discussed, specifically in regards to Thirroul and Austinmer. Progress had been made though with a site on the Princes Highway selected for the new station, while the old station building was sold for £10 (approximately $795 today). At the same time land was purchased at Thirroul for a new station, thus there would be two stations located within the Bulli Fire District.
The new Bulli Station was scheduled to be completed on Monday 3 November 1924 and so a new Garford appliance was despatched from Sydney with First Class Firefighter C. McCarthy to instruct the brigade on its use shortly after.
Bulli Fire Brigade Over the Years
In 1929 at the request of the local council the Fire Brigades Act was applied to Coledale, Scarborough, Wombarra and Clifton. Two more brigades were then added to the Bulli Fire District at Coledale and Scarborough which helped to reduce the workload of Bulli’s Volunteer Brigade.
In late 1934 the Bulli Fire Brigade made NSW history when eight members of the Brigade received long service medals at a special function. The eight men joined Captain Conley (who had already received his medal thanks to his time as a previous member of the Wollongong Fire Brigade) in this prestigious group, all having been members of the Brigade since day one in Bulli some 15 years prior. It was proclaimed at the function, by the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW, that to date no other brigade had managed such a feat with so many original members remaining together for over 15 years.
In 1947 the shires of Bulli and Central Illawarra came together to form the City of Greater Wollongong. Earlier in the year the Bulli Fire District had merged with the North Illawarra and Central Illawarra (Port Kembla) Fire Districts to form the Illawarra Fire District. Following the creation of the City of Greater Wollongong Council the Wollongong Fire District was amalgamated with the Illawarra Fire District in 1948. Thus Bulli was now incorporated into a large fire district that stretched from Clifton in the north to Port Kembla in the south. Over time this district would evolve into the zone and area system that exists today.
In 1981 the Board approved an increase in the number of permanent firefighters across the state. This increase was designed to permit the growth and development of a number of new departments including the Staff Training and Development Section and Breathing Apparatus Section. This increase also allowed for a permanent firefighter to be attached to Bulli, the only brigade across the state to receive such a position at this time. On 11 February 1981 the role was advertised in the Brigade In Orders with the successful applicant to take up the position from 1 April 1981 on the Country Roster. Therefore from this time the retained firefighters at Bulli were now overseen by a Station Officer. The first SO assigned to the position was A. Pendlebury (#3783). He remained at Bulli until 1984.
In 1986 special permission was obtained from the Minister of Police and Emergency Services to have Bulli be staffed by a Station Officer and three firefighters per shift on the standard roster, effectively making Bulli a 24-7 permanent station. These new roles came into effect in January 1987 and the brigade became comprised of 16 permanent firefighters and 11 retained firefighters. Captain Thurston thus became an Honorary Captain and when he retired in June later that year the role of Captain was not filled. Thus over the 68 years that the brigade had existed, only four men had filled the role of Captain permanently in Bulli.
In 1998-1999 capital works were undertaken at Bulli Fire Station which included major renovations to adapt the station for the needs of the now almost fully permanent station. The works were completed at a cost of $490,000 (equivalent to approximately $796,138 today) and trebled the size of the station with the extensions being officially opened on 17 March 1999.
The last retained firefighter at Bulli Fire Station was David Page who, before retiring in August 2003, brought up 20 years’ service. He was also the last retained firefighter at Bulli to receive a Long Service Medal.
Today Bulli Fire Station is staffed by 16 permanent firefighters. According to the latest FRNSW Annual Report for the financial year 2017-2018 Bulli Fire Brigade responded to 544 incidents, including 196 fire related occurrences.