*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to commemorate the opening of South Tamworth Fire Station at a ceremony held on Wednesday 19 August 2020. 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 Tamworth (1878-1899)
Tamworth was incorporated as a Municipality in 1876. Later in the year on 14 September 1876 a meeting was held in the local Mechanics Institute with the purpose of forming a local Volunteer Fire Brigade. The hall was over three-quarters full and it was considered highly desirable to establish a local Fire Brigade. Despite this initial interest in the establishment of a brigade it would still be a few years until a brigade was formed.
Support for the establishment and equipping of a brigade was hard to find. In 1877 the council allocated funds to the acquisition of an appliance and public donations were requested. Sadly, only one donation was received, £25 (approximately $4,000 today) from Alderman Abraham Cohen who would later up his donation to £100 (approximately $15,600 today) after no one else to donated. It was Cohen and another local man Levy, who rented a site opposite the Commercial Hotel to store the new appliance in a corrugated iron shed.
Over a year later, in August 1878 there was still no brigade, however it was reported that a trial was held for the new fire engine which had been purchased by the town and imported from England. Sadly, however, it did not live up to the description provided by the seller. It was agreed that the appliance would be useful for a brigade when one was formed however the water did not project as far as expected. For the engine to work a plentiful water supply was essential as were sixteen hands for the pumps. This was hard to come by in parts of Tamworth, and without a brigade many questioned how effective the new appliance would be. By the end of 1878 twenty-four volunteers had been secured, under the leadership of James Lambert, to form the first Tamworth Volunteer Fire Brigade. The Fire Station was a 4m x 4m tin shed and was located on Peel Street. The Brigade occupied it for 1 shilling rent a year (approximately $8 today).
The first fire call attended by Tamworth Fire Brigade occurred in September 1880 when there was a fire a short distance from the town. This event proved to be a disaster. Fifteen minutes elapsed before the fire bell was rung and then only a handful of people could hear it. Once at the station there was confusion as to how to operate the appliance, which meant that a further 15 minutes elapsed before the brigade left for the fire. Now 30 minutes later the brigade arrived on the scene to find the fire had already destroyed the building. Having already turned out the brigade decided not to waste the opportunity to practice and so turned their hoses onto the ashes.
In September 1887 Superintendent Bear of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) visited Tamworth on his way through to Brisbane. He suggested that the brigade’s engine be transferred to West Tamworth and that the brigade seek a Government grant for the purchase of a new one, given it had been causing troubles lately. The old one could be used at a sub-station in West Tamworth.
Around 1895 the brigade was forced to move into temporary premises as the owners of the shed they rented required it after they suffered a fire at their General Store. In the interim the brigade established a temporary station on land in Fitzroy Street near the Post Office.
Shortly after this the brigade was re-located to the corner of Marius and White Street, where the Train Station now stands. The brigade remained in these premises until 1898-9 at which time the brigade was disbanded.
The “New” Tamworth Fire Brigade (1899)
In 1899 Tamworth received a reticulated water supply which made the job of finding water to fight fires easier for the local brigade. At this time the brigade was not considered well organised and so after it was disbanded a new brigade was formed. The new brigade was trained in the use of a new appliance and techniques for a town with a reticulated water supply. Two more hose reels were also purchased; one was located in a shed near the Council Chambers while the other was located in a shed on Peel Street in West Tamworth, following the suggestion Superintendent Bear made ten years earlier.
In 1904 land in Lower Street was notified for a new fire station however it wasn’t until 1908 that a new station was built on the banks of the Peel River with a cottage attached. The shed that housed a hose reel near the Council Chambers was re-located to the back of the new station and it was used to house horses.
Fire Brigades Act is Extended to Tamworth
With the extension of the Fire Brigades Act in 1909 the brigade came under the auspice of the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW and with this came the addition of a permanent man to the brigade. The first Station Officer in Tamworth was Fred White and due to his rank within the NSWFB he became the head of the local brigade.
Throughout the 1920s numerous inspections of the station reported that three men slept at the station in deplorable conditions; their beds were in the Engine Room and they had no privacy or bathroom facilities. In September 1929, Tamworth therefore received a new fire station and appliance.
In the mid-1950s the role of Captain was re-introduced to the Tamworth Fire Brigade after the working hours of permanent staff was reduced. This meant that when the Station Officer was unavailable the brigade was led by the Captain. This practice continues today.
Due to the growth and development of Tamworth Superintendent Bear had suggested that a sub-station be established in West Tamworth during his visit in 1887. It wasn’t until 1899, when reticulated water came to Tamworth, that this came to fruition. The sub-station was located in Peel Street and was staffed by members of the Tamworth Fire Brigade who lived in West Tamworth.
In 1913 the fire bell at West Tamworth, near the hospital, was removed because it was considered a danger to the public as its supporting structure had been eaten by white ants. To contact the brigade in case of fire the public were told to visit the hospital, where a nurse was always on duty and who could then contact the station via the telephone.
In 1918 the West Tamworth Sub-Station in Peel Street was re-located before eventually being closed in 1930. This was largely due to the development of technology that aided the brigade in responding to fires across a much wider area. Such advancements included new and faster ways to alert the brigade to fire and faster appliances that could travel over great distances quicker. The closure of this sub-station also coincided with the erection of a new fire station for the main Tamworth Brigade.
West Tamworth Fire Station (1969-2020)
In 1967 the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW approved the purchase of land on the west side of the Peel River in Tamworth to establish a second fire brigade. This area was considered to be growing rapidly and so a second brigade on the other side of the river was considered necessary. As early as 1962 concerns were raised over the rising levels of the Peel River during heavy rain, which often saw access to West Tamworth cut off. By having a second brigade located there it was thought this would ensure the protection of those living west of the river.
The first obstacle that needed to be overcome was the fact that a light pole was directly in front of the new station site which made access difficult. Luckily it was able to be moved and progress on the new station continued.
To staff the initial brigade a number of the retained firefighters from Tamworth who lived in close proximity of the new station agreed to transfer to the second Tamworth Station.
West Tamworth Fire Station was due to open on 1 January 1968, however delays in transferring the site to the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW delayed this by twelve months. In the end the Board purchased the land from the Council for just $1 (this is equivalent to approximately $12 today). West Tamworth Fire Station therefore opened at 16 Kent Street in 1969.
In 2006 West Tamworth Fire Station received major works including an extension that featured a new engine bay, training area and change rooms. These extensions were officially opened on 16 June 2007.
No. 503 West Tamworth Appliance List
Mercedes Atego 1626
* The three initial appliances assigned to the new South Tamworth Fire Station had been transferred from West Tamworth.
No. 448 South Tamworth
Following even greater development in Tamworth changes have been made to the two existing brigades. As of 2020 a new station located on Ringers Road Hillvue (South Tamworth) has opened and been assigned as No. 448 South Tamworth. This new station is staffed by permanent firefighters from No. 452 Tamworth as well as the retained firefighters from No. 508 West Tamworth. As a result the old West Tamworth Station has now closed while No. 452 is now a solely retained station.
The new 448 South Tamworth Fire Station is one of the biggest in the state and also houses the Regional North 3 Zone Office. The building has been created with sustainability in mind and has features such as water tanks and solar panels.
Tamworth is a growing regional center so this new station will serve the community and also has the capacity to operate as a command center and deployment point for major incidents.
According to the latest available FRNSW Annual Report (2018-2019) for the year, there were 901 incidents in the Tamworth region that were responded to by Tamworth’s Fire Brigades. Of these 294 were fire related, 113 were related to hazardous material, 57 were natural disasters and 168 were automatic fire alarms.
The new South Tamworth Fire Station became operational on 23 July 2020.
- Story by Museum of Fire Heritage Team