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Station Focus: Nyngan Fire Brigade - A Brief History 1928 - 2017

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the opening of the new Nyngan Fire Station in 2017. The following is dedicated to the station's continuing 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 First Nyngan Fire Brigade (1928)

As early as 1917 local businessmen in Nyngan were inquiring as to the feasibility of establishing a Brigade in the town. In 1919 Nyngan Council applied to have the Fire Brigades Act extended to the Town. Initially the Council had agreed to come under the act with members of the Board of Fire Commissioners even coming to the town for an inspection however the cost was found to be too great with the tax revenue of the town not able to support a Brigade.

It was first reported in the Bourke Western Herald in February 1928 that a volunteer Fire Brigade had been established in Nyngan. A Mr. H. Evatt, who is noted as being the Mayor, was elected Captain of the new Brigade and steps were taken for the establishment of a Fire Station. The other original members of the Brigade were: C.H. Roberts, W. Thorpe, E. Simpson, A.H. Green, J. Kennedy, D.G. Curry, C.J. Nash, W. Garth, P.C. Knight, C. Barringe and P. Franklin. Interestingly, the Brigade had the assistance of the Boy Scouts who took on the duty of cleaning the hose.

After this time we have few references to any activity by the Brigade. In fact only two years later when a hotel was destroyed no mention is made of the existence of a Brigade.

The Fire Brigades Act is Extended to Nyngan (1935)

The year 1935 began with a disastrous fire in a Nyngan woolshed. The fire killed 300 merino stud rams and destroyed 31 bales of lamb’s wool valued at £240 (approximately $22,211 today). This, plus the destruction of the entire building amounted to a considerable loss and without a trained Fire Brigade the vulnerability of Nyngan to fire was exposed.

Shortly after this fire, on 15 February 1935 the Fire Brigades Act was extended to Nyngan. Following this, on 19 February 1935 a NSWFB District Officer was sent out from Sydney to help establish a local volunteer Fire Brigade. That same day an appliance was delivered to the town. A number of days later a fully-fledged Brigade had been established with eight members; G.A. Priest (Captain), S. White, P. Rodgers, H. Franklin, M. Sullivan, J. Cambridge, L. Cain and K. Roberts.

In October 1935 the newly formed Brigade attended their first fire which was a burning motor car. The car belonged to a traveller and the Brigade had it quickly extinguished with very little damage to the car.

The Brigade wasted little time before taking part in extra-curricular activities when they attended the Fire Brigades Demonstration in Katoomba in November 1935. This otherwise exciting event for the Brigade was marred by a fire back home in Nyngan, in what was the first building fire in the town since the instigation of the Brigade. Sadly without the Brigade available the building, which was owned by a member of the Brigade, was destroyed.

Nyngan Fire Station, opened 1935 [Museum of Fire Collection].

Finally, on 12 December 1935 the new Fire Station at Nyngan was officially opened by the Board of Fire Commissioners having cost £914.5 (approximately $85,691 today). The first Captain of the Brigade was Town Clerk Albert Priest and in 1951 while attending a fire at a storage room next to the local Post Office he received burns to the back of his neck, arms and head after he went into the burning building to locate some people trapped inside. It was later found that no one had been trapped inside but the fire caused £10,000 (approximately $412,150 today) worth of damage.

This Station received an upgrade in 1980 when Nyngan was amongst a number of NSWFB Station’s to receive major extensions. The fire statistics in 2015-16 FRNSW Annual Report show that for the year, Nyngan Fire Brigade responded to 16 fires and 23 other incidents.

Nyngan Fire Station, 2017 [Museum of Fire collection]

Nyngan Flood, 24 April 1990

For over 80 years Nyngan Fire Brigade has served the local community and surrounding towns assisting in many incidents. The most infamous incident was when Nyngan flooded in 1990.

On the morning of 24 April 1990 record heavy rains in the Bogan River catchment saw the town of Nyngan sink below rising flood waters. There was little many could do then seek shelter as the waters rose around them and the entire town was submerged. Nyngan Fire Station did not escape and was quickly submerged like the rest of the town, meaning that the Brigade’s appliance too was inoperable as the rising water rushed into the engine bay. The only place in the town above the water level was Nyngan Station which was used to evacuate all Nyngan residents to Dubbo and Nyngan Hospital which had become inaccessible. Air Force, TV news and private helicopters were all used for the evacuation (since the 1980s passenger trains no longer frequented the line, therefore it was a good base). Being unable to access their appliance the Brigade took dramatic steps, putting what equipment they could into a small boat and setting up their post in the signal box at the railway station. They operated in this manner helping as many locals as they could until the floodwaters subsided, at which time they obtained a four wheel drive and transferred the equipment to that. With the vehicle, they were able to gain access into parts of the town that had been cut off and were inaccessible by boat. Six days later a spare pumper was delivered to Nyngan to join the pumping operation which was underway with the help of the Warren, Dubbo and Delroy Fire Brigades.

Nyngan Flood, 1990 [Museum of Fire Collection]

The town of Nyngan had been all but destroyed and was in such a bad state that it was decided to recruit more Firefighters from neighbouring Brigades to help with the clean-up. The police established a check point to limit access to the devastated town and Firefighters were given tetanus shots before they entered the area to begin the hard task of restoring the town to a liveable state. The task faced by the Firefighters was immense with simple things like drinking water unavailable. It wasn’t until 8 May that the water supply was restored, about a week later. The Firefighters scrubbed and cleaned all essential buildings first, starting with the Police Station. Once the Police Station was operational the control point was transferred from the Station to there. In some cases BA and protective clothing had to be worn to limit the risk posed by the environment to the Firefighters. A problem faced by Firefighters was identifying certain chemicals, with many private dwellings having various chemicals whose labels had been washed off by the flood waters. Another grim site for Firefighters was the discovery of livestock and domestic pets that had been trapped and subsequently drowned by the floodwater. The majority of Nyngan’s Firefighters homes had also been destroyed with many left with nothing. Over the coming months various appeals across the state were initiated to help raise funds for them.

- Story by Museum of Fire Heritage Team


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