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Station Focus: No. 40 Willoughby Fire Brigade (1905-2015)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the centenary of Willoughby Fire Station back in 2015. 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.

What's In A Name?

Today the Fire Station on Laurel Street, celebrating it’s Centenary, is known as Willoughby Fire Station. This was not always the case though!

When a Brigade was established on Laurel Street in 1905 there was already a Station called ‘Willoughby’ established on the Pacfic Highway in 1899. Therefore the Brigade on Laurel Street was named ‘East Willoughby’.

As the region grew and expanded however the names of the areas also changed and so in 1917 ‘Willoughby’ was re-named ‘Chatswood’ and ‘East Willoughby’ became simply ‘Willoughby’ as it is known today. Any confusion surrounding the names ended in 1945 when Chatswood Fire Station Closed leaving ‘Willoughby Fire Station’ on Laurel Street as the one and only ‘Willoughby Fire Station’.

The East Willoughby Volunteer Fire Brigade

The establishment of a Volunteer Fire Brigade in East Willoughby (on the present site of Willoughby Fire Station) was first reported in the Fire Brigades Annual Report 1905. In order to house the Brigades appliance, a cottage was leased in Laurel Street from a Miss. E. Gray with £32.10 rent paid per annum (approximately $4,500 today). The Brigade was named ‘East Willoughby’ as a station named ‘Willoughby’ had been established in 1899 (officially opened on 18 February 1900) on the Pacific Highway in Chatswood.

Six volunteer firemen were appointed to the Brigade; Harry Saunders, F. Huggins, V. Reid, Ern Saunders and R. Hannaford were led by Captain Arthur Neely. The Saunders family were prominent in Willoughby and had a strong association with the fire station. While Harry and Ern were original members of the East Willoughby Volunteer Brigade another of their brothers, Fred, became a volunteer with the Willoughby (on the Pacific Highway) Brigade. When Harry died suddenly in 1929 he was given a full Fireman’s Funeral with an engine supplied by city Headquarters for use as a hearse and a full Fire Brigade Band was in attendance. The first fire attended by the Brigade was a grass fire on 25 November 1905. The blaze was extinguished effectively by one volunteer with a hydrant.

In 1908 the East Willoughby Brigade was grown to eight members in order to cope with the extra distances that the volunteers were required to pull the hose reel. The Board of Fire Commissioners NSW also took further steps to make sure that the Brigade at East Willoughby was permanently housed, purchasing the existing land and weatherboard cottage that the Volunteer Brigade had been renting since 1905. Two accompanying lots next to the existing lot were also purchased to allow expansion of the Brigade and Station. The total land purchase came to £385 (approximately $50, 900 today).

The New Fire Station

In March 1914 the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW appointed a permanent fireman to take charge of the Station to cope with the increased responsibilities of the growing area. First Class Fireman J. Bathie was appointed. The Brigade was equipped at this time with a hose reel, four scaling ladders and six hundred feet of hose with a hand pump.

On 19 February 1915 the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW instructed architects Spain, Cosh & Dods to prepare plans for a new Fire Station to be erected upon the land on which the current Station stood. On 2 December 1915 the architects reported to the Board of Fire Commissioners that the new Station was completed satisfactorily and was ready for occupation. The new East Willoughby Station was completed at a cost of £1,048 (approximately $101,000 today), and was officially opened on the 7 December 1915. Created in the Federation Arts and Crafts style it was a rendered single storey building with exposed brickwork.

In October 1917 it was decided that Willoughby Fire Station, which is located on the Pacific Highway in Chatswood, would officially change its name to Chatswood Fire Station. Locals were already referring to the Station as Chatswood as the municipality had assumed that name some years earlier. The NSW Fire Brigade then also changed the name of East Willoughby, to simply Willoughby, as it is still known today. Any confusion surrounding the Station names came to an end in 1945, when the Chatswood Fire Station was closed.

In 1929 major alterations and additions were made to the existing building to provide living quarters on a second story for the Officer-in Charge and additional accommodation for the firemen. These additions included two bedrooms, a sitting room, living room, front balcony, rear balcony, scullery, bathroom and pantry. The cost of these changes was £1,500 (approximately $111, 200 today).

Like many Fire Station’s and their surrounding suburbs in NSW a number of families develop a long history with both the Station and the surrounding area, and Willoughby is no different. Amongst the families that have a long association with Willoughby Fire Station are the Gorman and Ackling families. These two families were united through marriage and through their dedicated service to the Willoughby Brigade. Thomas Hector Gorman and his son Reginald John Gorman both were members of the Willoughby Brigade at the same time during the 1940s as were Albert Ackling and his son Kevin Ackling.

-Museum of Fire Heritage Team (story prepared 2015, shared 2021)


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