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Station Focus - Warrawong (Port Kembla) 1918-2018

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the history of Warrawong Fire Brigade. 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 Port Kembla/Warrawong

The present-day area of Port Kembla and Warrawong historically remained largely un-developed until the latter part of the 19th century. Settlement only really began after mining was established in Mount Kembla, which was actually further inland than the modern-day port. With such limited settlement in the area there are very few reports of fire impacting upon the settlers until the turn of the century and most of these fires occurred in the mining settlement at Mount Kembla.

At this time there was no central firefighting body for the region, with most mines having their own fire brigade. Following the success of the various mines a settlement began to develop near the water which facilitated the transportation of the products from the mines. This became known as Port Kembla and once settlement had begun to grow there so too did the number of factories and other plants. In 1909 the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. Work (ER & S) was established and thanks to the input of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB, which would later become Fire and Rescue NSW, FRNSW), who sent a Senior Officer to inspect the site, a skilled brigade was established. As the plant was the backbone of the local community the brigade was considered to be the Port Kembla Fire Brigade and so if there were any local incidents this Brigade would attend.

It wasn’t until 1917 that any steps were taken to have the Fire Brigades Act extended to Port Kembla and the subsequent formation of a government brigade. It was on 21 December 1917 that Inspector Dadd visited Port Kembla with the purpose of selecting candidates for a fire brigade and finding temporary station premises. He secured a building to rent for five shillings a week (approximately $23 today) on the corner of Wentworth Road and Allan Street. He also arranged for a meeting to be held to call for brigade applicants. In the lead up to the meeting he visited ER&S where he invited all able-bodied men and homeowners to attend the meeting. His actions saw a brigade officially begin operations from 1 January 1918.

With the establishment of the new brigade ER&S did not see the need to operate their own brigade and so donated their plant to the new Port Kembla Brigade. The only issue the Board of Fire Commissioners saw with this new arrangement was the number of false alarms the Brigade had to respond to at ER&S. So often was the alarm sounded and the Brigade called to the plant that the Board wrote to the captain asking that he assess the situation prior to responding the Brigade, as each time the Brigade responded each member was entitled to be paid for responding to the call.

No. 422’s first purpose built Fire Station in Port Kembla was opened in 1926. [Museum of Fire Collection]
No. 422’s first purpose built Fire Station in Port Kembla was opened in 1926. [Museum of Fire Collection]

The Brigade’s First Purpose Built Fire Station

Three years after the Brigade was created it was still operating out of its rented temporary premises. Due to this the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW visited Port Kembla in 1921 to find a new site for a permanent Fire Station. They settled upon a site in Wentworth Road, Five Islands Estate. Due to a number of reasons this site was never used for Brigade purposes and in 1924 a new site was purchased for £300 (approximately $24,000 today) on Military Road.

On 24 September 1925 the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW accepted the tender of Lowther and Horrocks for £1,494 (approximately $118,000 today) to complete the Station. Work began in late 1925 and the new Station was finally completed and ready for occupation on 22 February 1926.


The Impact of World War Two on Port Kembla

As World War Two raged and the threat of invasion along Australia’s east coast loomed, steps were taken to booster the services of the Fire Brigade in what were considered to be key strategical locations. As a result, the number of permanent firefighters at Wollongong Fire Station was increased and this caused the local authorities in Port Kembla to ask when permanent firefighters would be attached to their station. In response the Department of Home Security (the government department responsible for the defence of Australia on the home front) worked with the Board of Fire Commissioners and secured funding from the NSW Premier’s personal budget to allow the Captain of Port Kembla Fire Brigade to be employed on a permanent basis. His rank was therefore ‘Permanent Captain’ from 3 April 1942. In addition to this, two permanent Firefighters from Sydney were attached to the Brigade; A.E. Haworth was a third-class firefighter from George Street West and Probationary firefighter G.A. Nicholson was assigned to assist him straight from Headquarters. By 1945 these permanent firefighters had returned to Sydney leaving the captain in command of the Station.

In the 1990s the Brigade were re-located to temporary premises near the harbour. [Museum of Fire Collection.]
In the 1990s the Brigade were re-located to temporary premises near the harbour. [Museum of Fire Collection.]

Now known as the “Officer in Charge” Captain Cheshner was transferred to Pyrmont and so steps were taken to appoint a new Captain. However, this appears to have never come to fruition as a permanent Officer was appointed to oversee the Brigade from this time.


A New Station and a New Name

As greater attention was placed on providing safe and affordable accommodation in the Port Kembla area to replace the shanty towns, this saw the suburbs around Port Kembla grow. These suburbs may have begun as shanty towns but as the 1950s and 1960s rolled around they were becoming home to the growing population of new workers and their families, who came to the area to join the industrial and shipping boom. Due to this increase in the local population, there were calls as early as 1959 to have a fire station built in Warrawong to replace the one at Port Kembla.

As the 1990s dawned, greater steps were taken to move Port Kembla Fire Brigade to Warrawong. The first step was to re-locate the Brigade to temporary premises while the old Station was sold, and construction began on a new one. The Brigade operated out of a demountable-style building on Foreshore Road down by the harbour (near where the Svitzer Australia building is today).

In 1998 the Brigade occupied a new Fire Station in Warrawong [Museum of Fire Collection].
In 1998 the Brigade occupied a new Fire Station in Warrawong [Museum of Fire Collection].

In April 1998 a brand-new Station was completed and as the new station was located in Warrawong the Brigade’s name was officially changed to Warrawong. The Brigade occupied the new Station from 28 April 1998 while their name was officially changed on the 15 May 1998. The Station was officially opened on 8 July 1998 and was completed at a cost of $1.25 million (approximately $2 million today) and consisted of two engine bays. This was considered to be the most practical location for the Station, as the Brigade would be able to better serve the growing suburban community of Warrawong, as well as the largely industrial town of Port Kembla. No. 422 Brigade consisted of both permanent and retained Firefighters until the 2000s, from which time the Brigade transitioned to a solely permanent crew and this remains the case today.

-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team


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