Condensed History of Penshurst Bush Fire and Rural Fire Brigades
(From Early Minutes Books) 1936 - 1987
Reproduced from an original booklet. Photos & diagrams have been added.
Prepared by Captain Alex Sparks and Communications Officer Cliff Ross, April, 1987.
During the summer of 1935-36, large areas of the Western District were devastated by bush and grass fires. A public meeting was convened by Messrs W.A. Olle, J. C. Pelchen and A. D. McDonald, on 16th March, 1936. The meeting was attended by 80 landowners and townspeople; consequently, on the motion of Mr. E. R. Twomey, “The Penshurst Bush Fire Brigade” was formed. The office bearers were as follows:
PRESIDENT: Mr. N. Fry
SECRETARIES: Messrs. J. C. Pelchen and A. D. McDonald
TREASURER: Mr. J. J. Turrell
COMMITTEE: Messrs. R. A Cameron, H. G. Kruger, A. E. Rentsch, P. Mirtschin, E. R. Twomey, H. Ewing, H. Olle, W. E. Burger, P. Doherty, J. R. Ross, J. Howard and A. Presser.
AUDITORS: Messrs. H. Olle and N. Kelly.
Registration under the Bush Fire Brigades Act was affected and affiliation with the Fire Brigades Association based in Hamilton was also made.
Mr. W. A. Kelly was appointed Captain in charge of the Brigade. The appointment of Lieutenants, however, was postponed until the boundaries of the newly formed Brigade had been defined and agreed upon.
The area to be covered extended six to seven miles in all directions from Penshurst, with irregular boundary lines to take in several large holdings.
On the 2nd April, 1936, a committee meeting was held to determine the area boundaries and elect appropriate Lieutenants. Messrs. W. A. Olle and P. Mirtschin moved that the territories be:
Lieutenants for these areas were as follows
Area 1. Port Fairy Road to Macarthur Road Area 1. Bernhardt (Ben) Mirtschin
Area 2 Macarthur Road to Hamilton Road Area 2. W.E. Burger
Area 3 Hamilton Road to Blackwood Road Area 3. A. E. Rentsch
Area 4 Blackwood Road to Port Fairy Road Area 4. K. Cameron
Area 5 Township of Penshurst. Area 5. W. A. Olle
It was decided that steps be taken to subdivide the Penshurst Rural Fire Brigade’s territory. That plan (shown here), prepared by the President was used for discussion as the basis of the proposed subdivision. It was decided that the No. 1 area be the town boundary, and it was also decided that the Penshurst North, Burn Brae and Gazette Brigades be formed.
On 27th February, 1947, the first appointment of a Brigade member to the Local Advisory committee was made. Mr. Roy Schramm was this appointee, nominated by the members and approved by the C.F.A.
Nature was utilised in the fight against fire in 1951, when a fire watching look-out was built on top of Mount Rouse, jointly financed by the Shires of Mt. Rouse, Minhamite, Warrnambool and the C.F.A. It is manned over the proclaimed summer period.
The Fire Spotters employed since the construction of the hut were:
H Lewis - 1951 to 1952 ; W Evans -1953 to 1966; J White - 1967 to 1974; P O'Leary - 1975; R Olle - 1976 to 1984; M Cameron - 1984 to1986; N Cooper - 1986 to 1987
Communication from the fire spotter was originally by telephone. Later radio was introduced to streamline the efficiency of this essential service.
The first two way radio was fitted to the urban fire vehicle in 1964. Later when we received a new Austin tanker in 1967, another set was purchased for this unit. The Base station was set up in Schramm’s Service Station and was operated by G. Harders. In 1971, it was transferred to the residence of Mr. Alex Sparks, and Mrs. Mary Sparks held the position of Group Communication Officer for 13 years. The Base station was then operated from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ian Harrington, Burn Brae.
The life of the present Brigade gives a glimpse of the efforts made over many years to control or eliminate fire danger to life and property. It is topical to note that Shire records of 1851 give graphic accounts of many miles of travel surrounded by bush fires, of seeking safety as the only action possible.
Severe fires of 80 years ago saw a Bush Fire Brigade formed in Penshurst in 1905 when the means of attack consisted mainly of beaters in whatever form one could get their hands on, when the meager supply of manufactured beaters ran out.
Phosphorus deposited on properties was given as the cause of outbreaks in many cases in those days.
The Brigade decided to form an Urban Brigade in January of 1957 and this was duly declared an urban area by the C.F.A. and personnel were elected.
The Southern Grampians Group was formed in September, 1963.
The Brigade has assisted with fires outside the brigade area. These places include: Dartmoor, Heywood, Pigeon Ponds, Mortlake, Minhamite and many others within our Group and neighbouring Groups.
On the 12th February, 1977, approximately 10,000 acres were burned out in one of the Brigades worst fires in 30 years. In 1978, after these fires, the Penshurst Apex Club donated a quick fill pump to the Brigade which has been set up on a trailer with fuel, lights and hoses. This unit has been another asset to the brigade.
Since 1969, the Brigade has competed in the sporting side of Brigade training. The Demonstrations, or as they are known today, Championships, at both regional and State levels. These competitions are a great training exercise, as they teach cooperation, discipline and use of equipment.
Penshurst Brigade at the demonstrations in Dunkeld, 1969
Each year representatives of the Brigade attend specialized training courses at Fiskville as well as undertaking Group Training exercises within the Region.
Just what the future holds and what it should hold is a matter of individual opinion and cost.
Elimination of railway services has brought a new and even more dangerous system into being - huge road tankers with highly inflammable and dangerous chemical containers.
Does the future hold the manning of country fire stations with full time personnel qualified and specialists in the fields of chemical control of spillage with the backup of volunteers in case of fires - or is it something we will have to live with - or die with?
VEHICLES OWNED AND USED BY THE PENSHURST RURAL FIRE BRIGADE
1. 1938 (400 Gallon Tanker) GMC Registration Number - 265-679
2. 1944 (400 Gallon Tanker) International Registration Number - JL-768 Delivered 8th March, 1944. Removed July, 1967.
3. 1967 STU Austin 2.2 Registration Number - JSH-058 Delivered July, 1967 Removed July, 1970
4. 1970 STU 4.4 International Registration Number - KOT-960 Delivered July, 1970 Removed 22nd August, 1978
5. 1978 International Acco 1710 3.2 Registration Number - ACE-626 Delivered 22nd August, 1978 Removed 10th April, 1987
6. 1987 Hino 3.4D (3,000 Litre) Registration Number MYT-528 Delivered 10th April, 1987
The New International Truck, August 1978
The New International Truck, July 1970.
The fire brigade station building as it appears in 2016.
Penshurst Rural and Urban Fire Brigades held a 50th/30th Anniversary dinner Meeting on Friday, 22nd May 1987. The following Honour Rolls were unveiled:
Bush Fire Brigade Honour Roll
Bush Fire Brigade Foundation Members Honour Roll
Rural Fire Brigade Honour Roll
Urban Brigade Honour Roll
This building, built in 1944 in Bell Street, is no longer in use by the brigade. It was replaced by new headquarters in December 1993.
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