In 1909, the Fire Brigades Act 1989 [external link], established a statewide approach to firefighting by creating the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW to oversee its implementation. This body became known as the New South Wales Fire Brigade (NSWFB).
On 1 January 2011, the NSW Fire Brigades changed its name to Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW). The new name more accurately reflects the wider scope of services offered to the community and proudly symbolises and supports the organisation’s vision for the future
This is an overview of organised fire protection in NSW over the last 200 years:
1820s – At this time the only form of Fire Brigade in the NSW colony was a military Brigade, consisting of soldiers trained to use firefighting appliances.
1836 – The Australian Insurance Company establishes a Fire Brigade. A number of other insurance companies follow suit. These Brigades were largely local worker volunteers who used equipment supplied by the Insurance companies (buckets, ladders and axes).
1841 – A number of businessmen come together to form the Mutual Fire Insurance Association. The following year they established their own Brigade by bringing two engines and two firefighters (Thomas Bown and Edward Harris) from England.
1851 – A number of insurance companies come together to form the Sydney Fire Establishment, also known as the Insurance Companies Fire Brigade. Bown was the Superintendent.
1854 – Andrew Torning forms the No. 1 Volunteer Company (also known as the Victoria Theatre Brigade). He then helps to create a number of other Volunteer Companies.
1855 – The NSW country town of Goulburn establishes a Fire Brigade. This is the first Brigade to be established outside Sydney. Brigades are established in Newcastle and Maitland the following year.
1874 – A disastrous fire rips through the town of Windsor, burning across 30 acres and destroying 53 buildings (of which 36 were homes). Many other country towns fearing such an incident were prompted to create their own Brigades.
1880 – After disagreements between the Volunteer Brigades and the Insurance Brigades two bodies are established: Metropolitan Association Fire Brigades and the United Volunteer Fire Brigade Association.
1884 – The Fire Brigades Act comes into effect, creating the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB). This meant that all Brigades in Sydney had to register with the Board and meet certain requirements to remain active.
1888 – What is now known as City of Sydney Fire Station is opened in Castlereagh St Sydney.
1910 – The Fire Brigades Act is extended across the state and the Board of Fire Commissioners comes into being, replacing the MFB. The organisation now becomes known as the New South Wales Fire Brigade (NSWFB).
1945 – Many city stations are closed as a cost-cutting measure due to advancements in technology that reduced response times for stations to cover a wider area.
1984 – The NSWFB celebrates 100 years since the Fire Brigades Act was introduced and the establishment of a centralised firefighting body. – A new property at Chullora brings together all the transport, related sections of NSWFB.
1990 – The role of Director General replaces the Board and President.
1994 – The first Commissioner is appointed, combining the roles of Director General and Chief Officer.
2011 – The NSWFB becomes known as Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) to reflect the growth and diversity of the Brigades role across the state.
2017 – The FRNSW Head Office moves from Elizabeth St, Sydney to Amarina Ave, Greenacre.
This historical account was researched and prepared by the heritage team at the Museum of Fire.
Museum of Fire
The Museum of Fire is a not-for-profit charitable organisation based in Penrith, NSW. It is the foremost Australian museum on understanding the experience of fire. Its collection, which celebrates the history of FRNSW and fire services in Australia, is of national importance. Many items are listed on the State Heritage Register.
The Museum of Fire is in a Heritage Partnership with FRNSW. It works to preserve its history and heritage through numerous conservation, heritage and research projects.
Visitors and group bookings are welcome at the Museum of Fire.
Swap cards, badges, posters, figurines and other collectible items can also be obtained from the Museum of Fire.
For further information: Museum of Fire website. [external link]
History of recent major incidents
Articles and case studies for major incidents can be found in Fire & Rescue News.
Fire station history
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) was established on 14 February 1884.