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Station Focus - Lakemba Fire Station (1921-2021)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the centenary of Lakemba Fire Brigade/Fire Station which took place on 4 November 2022, with celebrations delayed by a year due to COVID. 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 Lakemba

By early 1917, it had become apparent that the local district surrounding Lakemba had experienced substantial growth and, as such, a new, contemporary station was needed to meet the increase in population and subsequent city infrastructure that had blossomed in the area. To date, the municipality of Canterbury had been serviced by two fire brigades: Canterbury and Campsie – both staffed by permanent and "volunteer” firefighters. 

The local District Officer wrote to the Chief Officer les Board of Fire Commissioners with the suggestion of a new station situated in Lakemba. Whilst both Canterbury and Campsie stations were highly effective, the projection of rapid growth in the region meant that a third station would be advantageous. The vicinity of Haldon Street in Lakemba was proposed as it would be ideally situated to offer protection to, not only Lakemba, but also the suburbs of Belmore and Punchbowl. 

The following year, in 1918, the Board paid a visit to the area to ascertain the fire safety needs of the district. It was after this inspection that the Chief Officer submitted a report which included two proposals for the Municipality of Canterbury:  

1) that there be established a new fire station and brigade at Lakemba, and  

2) that the existing Canterbury fire station be removed, and the provision of a motor appliance, two permanent men and six volunteers. 

With a suitable plot of land on Haldon Street acquired in late 1918, the Board accepted the tender of W. M. Martin for the erection of the new fire station to the cost of £3,679 (approximately $271,307 today).  

Architectural plans of Lakemba Fire Station [Museum of Fire Collection]
Architectural plans of Lakemba Fire Station [Museum of Fire Collection]

The new station was to include on the ground floor: an engine room, a watch room, a single men’s room, bathroom, storeroom and a recreation room. The first floor would also include comfortable amenities: two bedrooms, a living rooms, kitchen, a second bathroom, laundry, pantry and a balcony. 

Lakemba Fire Brigade Over the Years

As per the recommendations of the Chief Officer, it was decided that the new Lakemba fire brigade would consist of two permanent firefighters and six retained firefighters. First-class firemen were encouraged to submit their applications for the position of Officer in Charge. It was also recommended that the Officer in Charge, once hired, would be appointed as the second permanent firefighter after receiving qualifications as a motor driver.  

From the opening of the station in 1921 until 1975 the station was staffed by both permanent and retained firefighters. The original six retained firefighters were John Jones, Ernest D. Spears, Claude Wasson, John H. Jones, Fredrick Tendt and James S. Hodge. To compliment the new brigade, the Chief Officer also recommended that the appliance from Paddington station, the No. 108 motor hose carriage, be temporarily installed at Lakemba fire station.

The new Lakemba fire station on Haldon Street was officially opened at 2:00 PM on Wednesday 21 December 1921 by the President, the Hon. E.H. Farrar MLC and Fire Commissioners, H.F. Francis, W. Taylor, and E. Collins. They were accompanied by the Chief Officer N.G. Sparkes and Divisional Officer J.M. Lambourne. Canterbury Municipal Council members were also present at the opening, as well as Col. Spain, who was the Board’s primary architect, W. Martin who won the tender to build the premises, and the President of the Canterbury Progress Association, Mr. Farrington. 

The first Dennis D600  Fivedock Workshops, before being sent to Lakemba Fire Station, September 1969 [Museum of Fire Collection]
The first Dennis D600 Fivedock Workshops, before being sent to Lakemba Fire Station, September 1969 [Museum of Fire Collection]

In 1998, FRNSW provided additional upgrades to Lakemba station. The upgrade was certainly the most extensive since Lakemba first opened in 1921 and included automatic engine bay doors, a new recreation room, watchroom, mess facilities and upgraded communications for Lakemba station firefighters.  The new-look station was officially opened in 2000. 

A Few Notable Incidents

The Fires of 23’ & 24’

The Lakemba Fire Brigade are no strangers to hard work. Some of the earliest recorded fires that the brigade attended occurred in 1923 and 1924. In both instances, the fires had started local homes. The first fire, on Monday 27 August 1923 was at a four-bedroom cottage on Anzac Street, Bankstown. Unfortunately, the largely weather board constructed home was lost to the blaze by the time the crew arrived at the scene. Similarly, on Sunday morning, 22 June 1924 the brigade once again responded to a fire at a cottage in Gordon Street, Bankstown, but due to the nature of the cottage, were once again unable to prevent the destruction of the home.  

Gas Explosion

On 5 May 1937, Lakemba fire brigade were called out to a construction site in Punch Bowl. A high-pressure gas main had broken, and a large quantity of gas had travelled towards a steam excavating machine that was being operated by John Howe. As the gas and steam collided, it caused an explosion of flames, which caught Howe inside the vehicle. Thankfully, Howe was able to escape, despite his clothing being alight. His colleagues helped to extinguishing the flames before paramedics and the brigade were able to arrive. The Lakemba brigade worked hard to control the blaze as officials turned off the gas supply. The brigade managed to quickly extinguish the fire as Mr Howe was rushed to hospital with severe burns while in a critical condition. 

Furniture Factory BlazOn 27 May 1973, both the Lakemba and Campsie brigades were dispatched at 3:00 PM to attend the scene of a blaze that had erupted on Lakemba Street in Belmore. Station Officer Kirkland reported that one of the buildings had become fully involved and sent a red message immediately requesting three more stations come to aid in the fire. The call was responded to by District Officer D. Dostine with motors from Kogarah, Bankstown and Burwood. With the work of the all the stations and firefighters working together, they fought the blaze by placing the Lakemba motor and the Campsie motor on the two driveways that were still accessible and facing the fire from both sides of their motors. Firefighters were desperate to contain the blaze, as the factory was situated next to residential homes. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the brigades, only one building was lost and the spread of the blaze was halted.  

Pacific Heights Nursing Home

Just before midnight on Wednesday 29 April 1981, control was alerted to a fire at the Pacific Heights nursing home in Sylvania Heights, just off the Princess Highway. First on the scene was the crew from Miranda, who became immediately aware of how dire the situation was. The fire was already raging through the facility, with elderly residents still trapped within the building. Station Officer W. Brownjohn radioed a red message requesting assistance and breathing apparatus equipment immediately. To make matters more complicated, staff had attempted to transfer as many residents as they could out of the building, with some being placed across the street at a local hotel. However, gaining an accurate head-count of the residents was proving difficult, but they had ascertained that a number of residents had mobility challenges and were essentially bedridden. On top of that, local members of the public, in an attempt to help, were scrambling all over the scene and required brigade members to divert their attention to protecting bystanders and other citizens until the police and other emergency responders could arrive. 

In total, 12 stations attended the blaze with 57 firefighters active, including Lakemba brigade. District Officer R. Templeman, Inspector A. Baker, Superintendent N. Fletcher and Acting Deputy Chief Officer H. Atkinson also arrived on scene. As the fire was concentrated towards the front of the building, it was slow progress moving towards the rear of the building. No. 45 station, Miranda, located on the eastern curb in front of the building a 38mm hose was delivered into the south-west doorway along with an additional 38mm hose to brin the fire under control. A 70mm hose from pumper 21 was also placed through the south-eastern doorway located on the driveway. As the blaze continued, firefighters in BA suits entered the building to focus on fire in the ceiling and to search for any trapped residents. Dangerously at this point, the ceilings were starting to collapse, which had not only inhibited the brigades in gaining access through the building, but also had now trapped residents. Firefighters were able to locate and save 10 residents in terrifying conditions, although 15 residents were lost to the smoke and fire. 

 Lakemba Station Centenary Event, 4 November 2022 [Courtesy of Fire and Rescue NSW media team]
Lakemba Station Centenary Event, 4 November 2022 [Courtesy of Fire and Rescue NSW media team]

- Story by Museum of Fire Heritage Team


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