Brigade makes a splash

Mittagong Fire Station has served the town for 100 years, this month marking the centenary of its official opening on September 12, 1918.

The fire station, on Bowral Road facing the Mittagong Memorial Clock Tower, was the first of the local district’s current fire stations to be built. It was not, however, the first station to be built in the district – that being in Bowral. 

FIRE VOLUNTEERS: Bowral’s local brigade, the photo perhaps in honour of a new engine, c1910. Photo: BDH&FHS.

FIRE VOLUNTEERS: Bowral’s local brigade, the photo perhaps in honour of a new engine, c1910. Photo: BDH&FHS.

Bowral’s current fire station, built in 1925, replaced an earlier station that existed on Merrigang Street from 1893, when the first brigade of volunteer firefighters were recruited. A heavy, wheeled hose reel was hauled by them to fires until a horse-drawn fire engine came into service in April 1894. Christened the ‘Pioneer’, it was a large cart fitted with hand-operated water pump, hoses and equipment. 

At Moss Vale, a volunteer fire brigade was formed in 1894 and a fire station opened on Argyle Street near the railway bridge in 1897, initially to house a hand-drawn hose cart. 

A history of the fire brigades at Bowral and Moss Vale will be provided in a later series. To mark the centenary of Mittagong’s Fire Station, a history of the town’s early fire services follows here.

The municipality of Mittagong had no organised fire protection until November 1915 when it was brought under the Board of Fire Commissioners’ jurisdiction and a town brigade formed. 

A township had existed in the area since the 1850s, so how did residents deal with outbreaks of house fires before 1915? Until a reticulated water supply came into service in 1910, water would be brought in buckets from the nearest tank or from Nattai Creek and, if possible, a clearing created around a fire to lessen its spread.

The situation improved once Bowral’s fire brigade was formed in 1893, as it also assumed responsibility for the Mittagong area. From then, reports in the Bowral Free Press and the Scrutineer reveal that the brigade responded several times a year to fires at Mittagong. A selection of these reports are noted here:

OFF-DUTY: Bowral Fire Brigade members with an early pump cart engine, c1900. Photo: BDH&FHS.

OFF-DUTY: Bowral Fire Brigade members with an early pump cart engine, c1900. Photo: BDH&FHS.

BFP November 4, 1896: A fire started about 2.30am in an empty cottage, the Bowral Fire Brigade arriving on the scene about 4am. In the meantime no attempt had been made to save the house, the fire had taken such a complete hold. 

BFP February 27, 1897: At a meeting of Bowral Fire Brigade's Board, the Captain reported having attended a fire at Mittagong, involving an extra cost of horses, etc. It was decided to advise Mittagong Council of their liability to pay actual expenses in connection with future calls, the brigade being willing to assist in case of emergency, but in fairness to have refunded all actual expenditure.

BFP April 21, 1897: A fire was noticed about 5am in McCallum’s Coach Factory at Mittagong and the alarm given. Owing to it being Sunday, telephone communication could not be opened up with Bowral, and one of the Mittagong police rode to Bowral to alert the fire station. It was past 6am before the fire bell aroused the firemen. Drawn by a couple of horses, the engine soon set off. By the time it arrived, the fierce fire had a complete hold. The roof had fallen in, and the scarcity of water made the engine practically useless. The brigade had to stand by and watch the fire burn. They had plenty to do, however, the walls had to be pushed over, and it was nearly 12 noon before the firemen returned to Bowral. 

BFP 31 July 1897: At Mittagong, four shops and dwellings opposite Miss Frost's shop were completely destroyed by fire, nothing being saved. After a telegram was despatched to Bowral, the engine was at the scene within 20 minutes. There was an abundant supply of water. The firemen soon had the machine in working order, with two streams of water playing on the flames, which extinguished them in the back part of the shops. “This is the third fire that has recently happened at Mittagong early in the morning. The Bowral Fire Brigade being at each one. The firemen were thankful to the Mittagong men for their assistance at the pump.”

Mittagong residents then suggested that, as so many fires had happened there lately, it would be wise to leave the engine in the town, but the Bowral firemen did not agree. 

Until Mittagong gained its own brigade in 1915, the town continued to be well-served by Bowral’s brigade and engine.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 3-part series. To be continued.