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Station Focus: Muswellbrook Fire Brigade 1894 - 2023

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the brand new station opening for Muswellbrook in 2023. The following is dedicated to the station's continuing history celebrating now at the time of writing in 2023, 129 years of history. 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 Muswellbrook Fire Brigade

Following the incorporation of the Municipality of Muswellbrook as its own individual district in 1870, the need for a local and dedicated Fire Brigade was made evident. A public meeting was held at the School of Arts in August of 1888 to highlight the district’s need for a local Fire Station where Mayor W. Davison reiterated the municipality’s need for its own Fire Brigade, citing the formation of a Brigade at the neighbouring town of Singleton, and a recent fire which could have proven disastrous for Muswellbrook had the wind changed direction.


Calls for the establishment of a Brigade were raised once again in the 1890s with a Brigade finally being formed in 1894 under the captaincy of M. Delohunty. Equipment utilised by the Brigade consisted of a 6-inch Tilley manual pumper nicknamed “Daisy” which featured no brakes and was equipped with an iron water tank. The Brigade was housed in a galvanised iron shed at the rear of M. Campbell and Co.’s general store located at the corner of Bridge and Brook Streets.


A reorganisation of the Brigade occurred in February 1902, and it was noted a year later that the Brigade was being kept in an efficient state with the firefighter’s also being paid for their work. During 1902 the Brigade had a busier than usual year attending three fires, with one fire being noted as so great that the aftermath could have been severe without the Brigade’s help, saving the community several thousands of pounds. The work done by the Brigade during this period served to highlight the need for several additional appliances and equipment required to ensure the continued and effective working of the Brigade. A public subscription was put in place to aid with the funding of the Brigade, however, funds for the Brigade dried up and the galvanised iron shed in which they were housed fell into disrepair.


The Fire Brigades Act is Extended to Muswellbrook

After many attempts the Brigade was brought under the control of the Board of Fire Commissioners of New South Wales in 1910. The Brigade during this period consisted of ten volunteers including; Captain H. Sternbeck, Engine Keeper J. Rosen, and volunteers M. Delohunty, L. Hill, N. Sparkes, J. Dickie, H. Spence, R. Gunter, S. Hogan and E. Southcombe. H. Sternbeck and J. Rosen both resigned from the Brigade shortly after in 1911 and were replaced by W.E. Jaeger and L. Gunter respectively. The Brigade retained the same arrangement with M. Campbell and Co.’s for the galvanised iron shed in which they were originally housed. It was, however, deemed unsuitable due to the dirty conditions and lack of lighting, water, and sanitary facilities. The Board called for a complete overhaul of the facilities including the installation of gas, repainting, and cleaning of the building which allowed it to remain in use. The building would once again, however, be deemed unsuitable in 1912 on account of its state of disrepair, prompting the Board to begin the hunt for a suitable block of land on which to construct the new Station building.

Muswellbrook's second Fire Station, 13 July 1962 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Muswellbrook's second Fire Station, 13 July 1962 [Museum of Fire Collection]

In addition to an overhaul of the Brigade’s Station, several other adjustments were required to allow the Brigade to function effectively. Muswellbrook did not have a reticulated water supply, instead relying heavily on wells and water tanks. A fair amount of equipment was supplied to the Brigade following its reestablishment under the Fire Brigades Act, including the provision of horses due to the hilly nature of the district, as well as uniforms, and new ladders. Processes for the reticulation of Muswellbrook were largely completed by 1913, with water for the system pumped from drift wells located near the Hunter River directly into the reticulation mains, as well as into a reservoir with a holding capacity of 300,000 gallons (approximately 1,360,000 litres).


New Stations

Continued reports of the unsuitability of the original Station prompted the Board to begin inquiries for the erection of a new Fire Station. A suitable plot of land bordered by William Street and Market Street was identified known as Market Reserve. A contract for the construction of the building was drawn up in 1916 and awarded to Mr E.L. Thorne. Construction of the building was completed in 1917, with the official opening of the Fire Station held on 15 March 1917. At this time the Brigade was connected to the local telephone exchange, although it would be a further six years before the Station was connected with electrical lighting.

Muswellbrook's third Fire Station, 9 December 1998 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Muswellbrook's third Fire Station, 9 December 1998 [Museum of Fire Collection]

The Board of Fire Commissioners was approached by the Upper Hunter County Council in August 1967 for the potential to exchange the land occupied by the Council’s depot for that on which the Fire Station was built. Though it would be several years, construction quickly got underway, and the completed Station building was occupied by the Brigade in January 1977. The grand opening event for the new building was held on 30 April 1977.


Search for a twenty-first century site for Muswellbrook’s Fire Station began in 2019, with land being acquired in 2020, just 130 metres down the road from their previous Station on Market Street.


In November 2020 the Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen, NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliot, Fire and Rescue NSW Area Commander Regional West Chief Superintendent Steve Hirst revealed the construction site for the new Muswellbrook Fire Station. Mr. Johnson revealed that the new Station would include “three engine bays with an adjoining room and amenities, numerous sustainability features, additional storage space and extra training facilities for local staff.” The Brigade would then officially move in on 6 September 2023 with the opening ceremony held on 6 October 2023.

Muswellbrook's fourth Fire Station, September 2023 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Muswellbrook's fourth Fire Station, September 2023 [Museum of Fire Collection]

Incident Stories

Skellatar Homestead fire, April 1936.

A fire broke out in the kitchen at the Skellatar historic homestead on 28 April 1936, a property situated on the crest of a hill about 1.5km from town. At the time the closest fire hydrant was too far away for the Brigade to use, so locals arrived with buckets and shovels to help the Brigade out. While some people worked to save valuable heirlooms and furniture, others created bucket brigades to extinguish the fire which stopped the fire from spreading into the main building.


Just 16 years later, a grass fire was reported at 2:30pm to Muswellbrook Police who called on for volunteers. The fire started at Old Grasstree south of Muswellbrook with the bulk of the area burned being on Mr. E. H. Bowman’s property “Skellatar” and got within 40 meters of a new primary school being constructed on the New England Highway. A bulldozer was used to create a fire break to stop the fire before it reached the school and diverting the fire away from the Chauvel Army Camp and the residential area of South Muswellbrook. Multiple agencies were called upon to extinguish the fire including the Muswellbrook, Denman, Aberdeen, and Scone Fire Brigades, Muswellbrook police, and Municipal and Shire employees. Mayor Adams organised for the council’s water cart and grader to assist in extinguishing the fire.


Fossey’s Clothing Store Destroyed, July 1984.

On a Thursday night in July 1984 a fire broke out at Fossey’s clothing store in Muswellbrook causing more than $1.2 million (approximately $4.16 milion today) worth of damage. Muswellbrook Fire Brigade responded and due to their initial prompt and accurate actions they prevented the store from being totally destroyed, with Captain L. Rose calling on for assistance from the Aberdeen Brigade. Luckily Fossey’s didn’t trade late on Thursday, so there were no shoppers inside the building, but police did assist in steering away nearby shoppers from the burning building. Firefighters lacked access to the rear of the building which made it difficult to get water onto the fire but wearing breathing apparatus (BA), firefighters were able to gain access to the building and use foam on the main section of the fire. Temporary evacuation orders were given to nearby buildings as at the height of the fire there were concerns that it could spread to nearby shops and a bank. More problems occurred when the oil in a large central heating system on the ground floor kept reigniting. The fire was finally extinguished using medium expansion foam (AFFF). The fire was contained mainly to the storehouse area; however, the store’s $400,000 (approximately $1.4 million today) worth of stock was either burnt or suffered smoke and water damage. The fire was believed to be started by an electrical fault.


Counting Your Chickens – MVA on New England Highway, 22 June 2007.

Firefighters from Aberdeen and Muswellbrook holding chickens, 22 June 2007 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Firefighters from Aberdeen and Muswellbrook holding chickens, 22 June 2007 [Museum of Fire Collection]

In June 2007, firefighters from Aberdeen and Muswellbrook Fire Station responded to an incident on the New England Highway at Aberdeen where a B-double truck carrying approximately 32,000 litres of diesel had collided with a large truck carrying 20,000 chickens. Both tankers on the truck transporting the diesel ruptured and the diesel was flowing towards the flooded Hunter River. Whist the firefighters dealt with this Hazmat situation; they also had the added difficulty of capturing 4,000 chickens running loose on the highway. Captains Ian Dewer and Chris Kane organised fire crews to provide fire protection and to contain the diesel spill. Meanwhile, firefighters, police officers, council workers, RTA employees, and tow truck drivers rounded up the chickens which were then restacked for transportation. Inspector Michael Curtis, Acting Deputy Commander from Maitland, liaised with the brigade Captains and NSW Police Officers on scene to plan a clean-up operation. NSW Police Site Controller Superintendent Brian Treacy praised the efforts of firefighters whose professional assistance, he said, was invaluable.



Captains List

Name

Date of Appointment

Date of Resignation

M. Delohunty

1894

1895

H. Bourke

1895

1897

J. Lowe

1897

unknown

R. Withycombe

1902

1903

G. Lang

1903

unknown

H. E. Sternbeck

1910

1911

W. E. Jaeger

1911

1955

K. L. Paull

1955

1974

L. W. Rose

1974

1990

D. Farrell

1990

1993

C. J. Kane

1993

2021

I. Boyle

2021

Present

Appliance List

Year

Model/Make/Type

Motor Engine Number

1909

Tilley (Manual Pump)

-

1910

Hose Reel

-

1914

Bown (Manual Pump)

-

1926

Dodge 6

50

1935

Dennis 250

195

1943

Dennis 250

195

1960

Bedford J1

80

1970

Ford D400

334

1975

International 1610A

502

1986

International 1710B

579

2001

Isuzu FTR-800 4x2

444

2002

Mercedes Sprinter 412

374

2016

Mercedes Atego Class 2

414

2021

Technical Support Vehicle

113

-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team

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