Fire prevention and protection activities commenced in Canberra in June 1913 when a firefighting machine was purchased for the Federal Capital Territory. The Canberra Fire Brigade was formed soon after, in August 1914, disbanded during the World War I and then re-established in the early 1920s.
The brigade was required to complete Daily Occurrence Registers to record activities and calls attended to. A continuous run of 129 volumes dating from 1924 to 1969 are the focus of ArchivesACT's March Find of the Month and a few of the entries relating to some past Canberra events have been highlighted.
The content of volumes includes each day's events, written up as they occur, covering matters such as station procedure, staffing, duty rosters, calls attended and the results, the servicing of appliances, routine checks of alarms and fire equipment, and inspections of buildings.
In 1935 the brigade took on the additional role of the Ambulance Service, so details of the calls attended to requiring ambulance transport are also recorded in many of these volumes.
Much of the activity of the brigade was within the metropolitan boundaries of Canberra but there were certainly occasions when its appliances were required to fight bushfires. While memories of more recent bushfires around Canberra are still vivid, there were similar earlier events that we are reminded of by browsing the registers.
It is well known that that the January 13 "Black Friday" bushfires of 1939 devastated Victoria, but perhaps a little less known is that fires also burnt within the ACT at the same time, with damaging outbreaks burning to Canberra's south and threatening Mt Stromlo and Hall. Assistance was sought from the brigade around midday on January 14 and their "Dennis" fire truck despatched to "protect homes at Uriarra Homestead".
It is interesting that an entry later that day records that another request was received for assistance by way of a phone call received from a Mr Cole who requested assistance from the brigade to "protect Mr Schumack's home at Weetangera".
Notes in the volume were as follows: "Phoned Mr Mildenhall on whose advice Mr Bond was notified and is attending call. Mr Mildenhall advised station that it would be unwise for brigade to leave City Area unprotected."
The annotations are often quite brief but the sense that some quick decisions needed to be made and the potential danger is nonetheless conveyed.
The daily occurrence registers were dutifully completed by officers for each day's events in strict chronological order. This makes it quite easy to check what the brigade's involvement was in some of Canberra's significant events.
In what has now become known as the Canberra Air Disaster, 10 people were killed on August 13, 1940, including three Commonwealth ministers and the Defence chief of staff, when a RAAF Lockheed Hudson crashed while preparing to land at Canberra airport. This required the services of both a fire unit and an ambulance. The corresponding register entry provides the exact time the brigade became aware of the accident and the action taken to attend to the call.
In this case, a brief report was later included by one of the officers entering the activities of the day: "... aircraft crashed and alight, east of aerodrome and about half way to Queanbeyan, Sutton Rd. Extinguished with hand chems and water - further information may be obtained from Wing-Commander Heffernan of RAAF."
Another example relates to one of Australia's prime ministers. Of the 30 people who have served in the role, just two have died while in office. John Curtin passed away while residing at the Lodge on July 5, 1945 with his wife Elsie by his side. Arrangements were then made for his lying-in-state at Parliament House before his return to his home-town Perth for the funeral.
Some additional details about these arrangements are revealed in the corresponding daily occurrence book, the brigade having received a call from the funeral directors at the Lodge to "convey the body of the late prime minister to hospital for embalming purposes".
The ACT Fire Brigade daily occurrence registers are a rich source of information for researchers wanting to know more detail about the operations of the Canberra Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service. It is just one series of records that will be featured when ArchivesACT's public database is launched in April 2022.
The brigade's daily occurrence register listings will also have digital copies made available for viewing and downloading online. This database, named ACT Memory, will primarily provide information about government records, rather than copies of the records themselves. Archives ACT will, though, always be working to publish more and more of these historical documents online.
ACT Memory will also provide information about many records created by the ACT Government since self-government (called the Record Series), about all the government bodies that created records over the years (Agencies and People); and descriptions of the types of work those government bodies performed (Functions).
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