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The FRNSW 140 Year Celebrations continue with our CEO

At the Museum of Fire we feel it is essential to pay tribute to our firefighters each and every day. Without their heroic efforts there would be no stories to share, nor any history to preserve.

We acknowledge the proud history of Fire and Rescue NSW, formerly New South Wales Fire Brigade (NSWFB) and Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB); especially in this 140-birthday year of the organisation and note how much the organisation has changed and developed in that time.

Despite having 140 years of history under the organisations belt it has only been relatively recently that the day-to-day administration of the service has come to look like it does today.

No. 1 Fire Station, today known as City of Sydney Fire Station. This housed Fire Brigade Headquarters for many years. Photograph pre-1910 [Photograph from Museum of Fire Collection]

It wasn’t until 1910, when the MFB was dissolved and the NSWFB came into being that the first civilian was appointed to a role within the organisation. The first non-firefighter position was that of President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW (the governing body of the NSWFB). The employment of additional administrative staff continued slowly over the coming decades.

The first time that the NSWFB administrative staff numbers were reported in the NSWFB Annual Report was in 1968 at which time there were 245 administrative staff employed by the NSWFB across the state. At this time all civilian staff were employed as either ‘male clerks’ or ‘female office staff’ with more description position titles only coming into use towards the end of the 1980s.

Since that time the administrative structure has grown and morphed to look much more as it does today. The number of roles required to ensure firefighters are able to undertake their duties has increased with administrative services, such as Information Technology (IT) not even dreamed about when the brigade began in 1884.

There are so many stories from the rich history of FRNSW and our team look forward to sharing them throughout this 140th birthday year. The organisation has indeed changed and grown from just twenty firefighters employed to protect Sydney in 1884 to over 6,800 firefighters who protect all of NSW; and an additional 500 administrative support staff today.

At the end of the day without the firefighters there wouldn’t be an organisation whose history the Museum would exist to preserve as the official heritage partner to FRNSW.

The NSWFB Administration Offices were split between the Headquarters building and Aetena Tower in the 1980s. Pictured here are the Aetena Tower offices [Museum of Fire Collection]

Switching gears now to what our Museum team have been up to over the recent months!

This is the busiest time of year for our small museum team. With activities both on and off site this April our team will clock up approximately 500 combined additional hours to their regularly scheduled time at the Museum. Thanks to the dedication of our team much of this time is donated alongside our regular volunteers who already offer their time each week to the help the Museum remain operational and able to provide a service to the public.

As I write this blog, we have just concluded another year of attending the Sydney Royal Easter Show with Fire and Rescue NSW.

While we had some of our team on site at the Easter Show I hit the road with our Curator Ben to attend the zone championships and to celebrate the centenary of Tumut Fire Station. It is always a pleasure to see the teams in action at Championships and I enjoyed getting to catch up with Championship Historian John Hand.

Despite already fitting so much into the start of 2024 there is no rest on the horizon for our team with school holidays beginning in just a few weeks. Our team will jump to it again as they host additional fire engine rides and Junior Caretaker’s Day as part of Earth Day celebrations.

Also coming up fast is the Hawkesbury Show. The Museum is excited to once again join the local brigades showcase at this wonderful family event which will be held 19-21 April 2024.


A little further afield, out in Orange, the Museum has been proud to have been able to support the team at Orange Regional Museum to curate a wonderful exhibit on the history of firefighting in the local community. Titled "Orange 412: A History of our Local Fire Brigade" the exhibition tells the story of the formation of Orange Fire Brigade and shares tales from the Brigades history that were curated with the assistance of local firefighters. You can check out the exhibition until 21 July 2024, after which time part of the exhibit will be travelling to Penrith! Keep an eye on our socials for updates!

Before I finish this blog it is with a heavy heart that I take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the Museum’s long-time volunteers Olly Bentvelzen who sadly passed away in March. Olly was truly one of a kind and held her own as the only female volunteer in our otherwise wholly male workshop volunteer team. Olly was a volunteer at the Museum for 9 years and has been a fixture of the team since I first became involved with the Museum. While we didn’t always understand each other’s vision for different projects, we always eventually came to a compromise and Olly put her heart and soul into every task she undertook. It is thanks to Olly that the Museum’s gardens look so beautiful, and she helped to establish our Junior Caretaker’s program where every Earth Day children are given the opportunity to undertake gardening activities at the Museum. Olly was an incredibly hard worker and wouldn't stop until the task she'd set her mind to was complete. Olly’s passing has left a large hole in our museum team and we all will miss her deeply.

-Blog by CEO Belinda McMartin


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