Hornsby has a long and interesting history relating to the topic of fire protection. Over the years, the area has been afflicted by a range of incidents; from floods and fires to motor vehicle accidents (and sometimes a combination of both!). A well-known incident is of course the destruction of the Hornsby Fire Station building, an incident that took place 50 years ago today (5 January 1971). Before we look at this incident though we’d like to share a brief history of Hornsby Fire Brigade.
The Establishment of Hornsby Fire Station
On the evening of Tuesday 7 March 1911, a fire broke out in McDonald’s grocery store which quickly spread to surrounding buildings in Hornsby’s central business district, causing an estimated £5000 in damages (approximately $690,777 today). The Chatswood Brigade was called to assist but refused to turn out as Hornsby was located outside of their district as stipulated under the provision of the Fire Brigades Act (1909). Shortly after the incident, the Hornsby Progress Association made requests for a local Brigade to be established but it was not until November 1913 that the provisions of the Fire Brigades Act (1909)were applied to Hornsby Shire.
One Fire Brigade, Four Premises
Hornsby Fire Brigade became operational on 3 August 1914 with a permanent staff of two. It was established in a cottage on Peats Ferry Road (now Pacific Highway), Waitara, which the Board leased from owner Mr. E. Sanders for twenty-five shillings per week to accommodate the fire appliances. Following the construction of single men’s quarters and a watchroom at the side of the cottage, the strength of the Brigade was altered to include a Sub-Station Officer and three permanent firefighters in 1915.
Hornsby Fire Brigade received their first purpose-built fire station in 1925. It was also located on Peats Ferry Road, at a site just a short distance from the other. The two-storeyed brick building was constructed in a Georgian style at a cost of £6,589 (worth about $548,233 today) by W. M. Martin. Staffing was again increased at this time. The premises served the needs of the Brigade and its community well until its destruction in 1971.
Following the loss of Hornsby Fire Station to fire, the Brigade occupied Hornsby Council premises at 90 George Street for a period of one year while the new station was built. On 21 April 1972, Hornsby Fire Brigade occupied their new station at 2 Bridge Road, Hornsby. The Hornsby Fire Brigade continues to serve its community from this location today. It is a permanent station comprised of four platoons.
Hornsby Fire Station Burns
Just before 5pm on 5 January 1971, a Golden Fleece petrol tanker loaded to capacity with 25,000 litres of petrol overturned in front of Hornsby Fire Station. A steady stream of flaming fuel quickly spread to the station and continued to run down the roadway, damaging several business premises and a service station in the process.
The firefighter on watchroom duty at the front of the station narrowly escaped the blaze that enveloped the building, exiting through a side door just seconds before the fire reached his office. Those in the living quarters above the station also struggled to evacuate in time but managed to make it out unscathed. Thankfully nobody was hurt, including the petrol tanker driver who was pulled clear of the wreckage unharmed.
Once positioned at a safe distance away from the fire, Hornsby firefighters leapt into action once again and got to work to gain control of the fire. They were soon joined by crews from Gordon and five other metropolitan stations.
The situation was reported to be under control an hour after the tanker had initially crashed. Once the fire was extinguished, only a skeleton of Hornsby Fire Station remained. Both the fire station and its new Dennis Jaguar were lost to the flames that day, completely destroyed during the incident.