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Station Focus: Cessnock Fire Brigade (1909-2016)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the centenary of Cessnock Fire Brigade. 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 Establishment of a Fire Brigade in Cessnock

On Wednesday 24 October 1906 the Maitland Daily Mercury told of a shop fire in Cessnock. The fire had occurred in the joint premises of the local tobacconist, hairdresser and saddler and so all three businesses were devastated when the building was completely destroyed. One of the shop owners also lived on the premises and after awaking to discover the fire at 3:55am, he panicked and couldn’t find the key to the door. The gentlemen therefore made his escape through a window and summoned the police, conveniently located in the building directly across the street.

With no local Fire Brigade a cry of “fire!” was issued throughout the town and soon around thirty people had come to help. By this time the owner had calmed down and re-entered the building through a window to get the key and let everyone in so they could try and extinguish the fire from the inside of the building.

Unfortunately, the building was unable to be saved and therefore the same day a call was made for the creation of a local Fire Brigade. Still known as a private village and yet to be granted the title of town, Cessnock was still developing when this fire occurred. Two years later, in 1908 the formation of a Brigade was still being discussed in the newspapers, however it was yet to come to fruition. The following year though this would change.

The year of 1909 began with a number of local bushfires and at the January Council Meeting praise was given to those Brigades in surrounding towns and villages that worked hard to battle the blaze. At the same time the Council also reinstated the desire to have a local Fire Brigade in Cessnock. Thus, the ball finally began rolling and by the end of the year Cessnock would have a fully operational Fire Brigade.

On 26 February 1909 a meeting was held in the School of Arts for the purpose of forming a local Fire Brigade. Unlike in the past when support for the motion was hard to find, this time there was an enthusiastic response. This may well have been because it wasn’t until the end of 1908 that the town received a modern water supply. It was felt that without a water supply there was little the Brigade could do, however now that water was readily available throughout Cessnock there was much support for the formation of a Brigade. At the meeting a motion was passed naming the Brigade the ‘Cessnock and Aberdare Fire Brigade’, however a site for a station could not be agreed upon and so this was left to stand until the next meeting.

In July 1909 a special Government Grant of £50 (approximately $6,714 today) was given to the newly formed Cessnock Brigade and they wasted no time in procuring firefighting equipment. Similarly, an application was made by the Brigade for land on Vincent Street upon which to build a Fire Station. In the meantime, the Brigades equipment was stored in a shed at the rear of the old co-operative store in Railway Street. At the same time, while they waited to hear if they could erect a Fire Station on the Vincent Street site, they acquired a bell which they erected at the shed temporarily.

Cessnock Volunteer Fire Brigade c. 1910. View shows a group of volunteer firemen standing around a hose reel. L to R: (name not known), (name not known), Jim Ballard, Mic McDonald, Tom Bullard, (name not known), and Captain Jack Craig.  [Museum of Fire Collection]
Cessnock Volunteer Fire Brigade c. 1910. View shows a group of volunteer firemen standing around a hose reel. L to R: (name not known), (name not known), Jim Ballard, Mic McDonald, Tom Bullard, (name not known), and Captain Jack Craig. [Museum of Fire Collection]

The Fire Brigades Act Comes to Cessnock

In February 1910 the town of Cessnock was informed that the Fire Brigades Act had been extended to Cessnock.12 With the extension of the Fire Brigades Act changes were brought to the still newly formed Brigade. Cessnock was only one of the very many country Fire Brigades that now came under the control of the Board of Fire Commissioners. As a result, the newly appointed Divisional Officer visited Cessnock and inspected the Brigade. He selected nine of the fifteen current members to continue as part of the Brigade, the opinion being that fifteen was too many members for a country Brigade of this kind. Captain Craig was officially appointed both Captain and Engine Keeper by the visiting officer on 1 March 1910.

Cessnock’s New Fire Station

With a dramatic increase in the local population (it had almost doubled in the last ten years), the time was right for Cessnock to finally receive a brand-new Fire Station. For a number of years the Board had attempted to provide the Brigade with a new Station, however financial constraints meant that each year since 1914 it had been postponed. Finally, in early 1916 steps were undertaken to find a builder to complete the new Fire Station. It was estimated that the works would cost around £1,350 (approximately $130,200 today) as this is what the construction of the same Station design in other country towns such as Inverell and Wickham had cost. The Board soon found that they could have the Station built for a lesser price than they expected when Mr. E.L. Thorne was awarded the tender on 4 May 1916 for only £1,311 (approximately $126,450 today). On Monday 23 October 1916 the brigade took charge of their brand-new Station and Captain Craig was appointed the resident officer. Prior to this the Station was officially opened a few weeks earlier on 7 October 1916.

Cessnock Fire Station c.1920 [Photo courtesy of Cessnock City Library]
Cessnock Fire Station c.1920 [Photo courtesy of Cessnock City Library]

Cessnock Fire Brigade’s Famous Billiard’s Table

On 2 February 1935 Cessnock Fire Brigade hosted a ‘smoko’ event to inaugurate the new recreation room which had been built by local men. The Brigade’s Social Club purchased a billiard table for the room. From the time the table arrived at the Station the Brigade had an understanding with a number of youths in the town who would use the table on a regular basis. The young boys were on friendly terms with the Brigade and preferred to spend their time at the Station rather than at the local billiards hall. This upset the owner of the local establishment who took the opportunity of a new Station Officer’s arrival in 1937 to try and bring an end to the boys using the Station’s table. Not wanting to upset anyone the new SO allowed the boys to continue using the table, however he also turned a number of boys away informing them they could visit the local billiards hall. This caused more trouble for the SO however as a number of the mothers of the boys confronted him wanting to know why he had turned their sons away. It soon became clear that the mother’s preferred to have their sons exposed to the Fireman and spending their time at the Station rather than the public billiard room, which was ripe with bad language and gambling. Therefore, after receiving permission from his superiors the SO allowed the boys to continue to use the Station’s billiard table and this practice continued over the years.

Cessnock Fire Brigade Have A Captain Again

In 1955 Captain W. Nicol was appointed the first Captain of Cessnock Fire Brigade since Captain Craig in 1918. Captain Nicol had joined the Brigade in 1942 and was seen as the right man for the job. Prior to being named Captain he had resided at the Station as the resident Volunteer Fireman. This role preceded that of Captain in regards to assisting the permanent staff. The practice of both permanent and retained staff continues in Cessnock still today.

Cessnock Fire Station c. 2005 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Cessnock Fire Station c. 2005 [Museum of Fire Collection]

Today, Cessnock Fire Station is staffed by both Permanent and Retained Firefighters. On 6th October 2016 a special ceremony was held at the Station to celebrate the Centenary of the Station building. The fire statistics in FRNSW latest Annual Report show that for the year, Cessnock Fire Brigade responded to 132 fires and 324 other incidents.

- Story by Museum of Fire Heritage Team


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