Happy 75th Birthday – Ferntree Gully CFA

On 14 July 2017, Ferntree Gully Volunteer CFA Fire Brigade celebrated seven and a half decades of unbroken voluntary service to our community and the State of Victoria.

The gala dinner at the Knox Civic Centre was the highlight of a year of celebration of the 75th anniversary of the brigade’s founding in 1942. It was a time for speeches of thanks, from Dobson Ward Councillor Jake Keogh and State Government MP Nick Wakeling; for presenting an array of awards and medals; for shared stories of the early days and for a delicious meal.

Also present were representatives from all the neighbouring CFA brigades. The strong sense of loyalty and family feeling was evident, along with a professional approach to the reality of protecting the community in a bush-fire prone area. A strong community is important in times of danger, and the memory of fighting back disasters over the years has strengthened the bonds in the foothills townships.

Brigade Captain Seamus Smith’s opening address touched on all these things and he did not resile from mentioning the unsettling effects of possible future organisational changes. Even so, he remained confident of the brigade’s unity and its assurance that residents will be protected in times of emergency.

Former Dobson Ward Councillor Karin Orpen’s message of congratulation was read out expressing her gratitude for a volunteer fire service that ‘put themselves in harm’s way’ to protect the community.

Then came the honours (too many to list here): for 5 years’ service, 15 years and 35 years. Life memberships were conferred on Captain Seamus Smith, Byron Rutgers and Graham Crichton. Firefighter of the year is Dylan Davies. Junior Firefighter of the Year is Charlotte
Breisch.

Next day the anniversary celebrations continued with an afternoon tea at the FTG Fire Brigade hall.

I felt privileged to be invited to both events.

Editor Anne Boyd

 

The History

Contributed by brigade member Graham Crichton

The present brigade is Ferntree Gully’s second fire brigade. The original unit, the township’s Bush Fire Brigade, was formed in the wake of devastating fires in 1926.

With constant challenges and severely limited resources, the old brigade did much good work throughout its 17-year life. There were large outbreaks in and around the Dandenong Ranges; in particular the huge outbreaks of January 1939, forever known as the Black Friday bushfires. These fires were fought for days on end by the combined and co-ordinated efforts of the local Bush Fire Brigades. Jack Murphy, from one of the local pioneering families, was the first captain of the brigade of 38 men.

Support was always received from the community. Shire Councillor and Gallipoli veteran, Colonel George Knox and Mrs Knox actively assisted the brigade. The old ship’s bell that served as Ferntree Gully’s original public fire alarm still exists as a memento of the days of our Bush Fire Brigade.

The Ferntree Gully CFA

Australia had been at war since 1939. Darwin and Sydney had been attacked, and shipping had been lost in coastal waters.

By 1941, as the population of Ferntree Gully increased mains water supply reached the lower-lying areas. Following a petition by residents, the then Shire of Ferntree Gully asked for a Country Fire Brigades Board unit to be established.

In July 1942, Australian troops in New Guinea confronted the invading Japanese army near a village called Kokoda.

The fear of invasion was very real. Locally, a military base had been strategically sited at Rowville, and a US army anti-aircraft unit had been positioned on One Tree Hill. A meeting, convened in the Shire Hall on 14 July 1942, established the Ferntree Gully Country Fire Brigade.

The 11 volunteers who registered as the initial complement of firemen included experienced Bush Fire Brigade veterans. Harry Dinsdale became brigade captain. Ray Parker was the youngest member, aged 16. Ray completed 35 years with the Brigade and went on to become the Fire Service leader in the Shire of Knox. His term was interrupted only by war service with the RAAF. Ray was awarded the British Empire Medal and has now retired to Queensland.

The new brigade, along with Belgrave, Boronia and other Country Fire Brigades Board (CFBB) Brigades around Melbourne’s perimeter, would be required to assist the Metropolitan Brigade should the city be attacked by enemy forces. Planning and training
included emphasis on air raid precautions.

A hose carriage (later fitted with a pump), was provided by the CFBB, and housed in a shed erected on Selman Avenue, opposite Spring Street. With the advent of the Country Fire Authority (which classified the brigade as ‘urban’), the shed was moved to The Avenue, and replaced in 1955 with a brick station.

From the late fifties, large tracts of market gardens, orchards and pasture, west of Dorset Road and south of Burwood Highway, were progressively transformed into residential, commercial and light industrial zones. This increasing diversity in hazards placed considerable demands on the brigade.

The pumper, periodically replaced and upgraded by the CFA, restricted the brigade to working within reach of water mains, for it still had no mobile fire-fighting capability. Local fund-raising efforts permitted the purchase and modification in 1958 of a war-vintage airfield tanker that provided the necessary mobility to protect outlying properties, and to fight the bushfires that regularly menaced the district.

In those first two decades the brigade itself evolved and kept pace with an ever increasing workload. Many were the challenges that would be faced and overcome in the 50 years that followed.

The brigade today

Today, the volunteer fire-fighters in Ferntree Gully are fully trained, using an array of specialist equipment carried on our four purpose-built ultra-modern appliances. As well as responding to structure fires (building fires of all types), the brigade responds to motor
vehicle crashes, hazardous materials incidents, grass and scrub fires and many other types of emergencies. The critical importance of home and general fire safety is actively promoted in fire prevention programs in schools and in the wider community. Fire prevention is of upmost importance.

Like our pioneers, the volunteer fire-fighters of Ferntree Gully are committed to the safety of Our Community of whom they are part.

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