Avoca Beach Rural Fire Brigade
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The Avoca Beach Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade, located on the corner of Avoca Drive and The Round Drive, has been servicing the community of Avoca Beach and those around it for many years[ambiguous]. With responsibilities ranging from bushfire to house and vehicle protection, the Avoca Beach Rural Fire Brigade is very active in Central Coast of New South Wales (NSW), the Brigade is part of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) in NSW, Australia. The NSWRFS enjoys the membership of approximately 70,000 volunteers across the state with members attending to emergency service duties at over 2,000 brigades across NSW.
The history of the Avoca Beach Rural Fire Brigade has been compiled from information that was provided to the Brigade by a variety of different people. It is difficult to cite specific publications as much is local knowledge. Any part of the attached information can be attributed to Pat Britton, Roy Dimond, Steve Marshall and Ian Bowtell.
There was no organised fire fighting unit in the area until a large fire, burning locally, spurned the local farmers into action. In 1939 a fire started at Springfield and burnt to the coast at Wamberal after which the council called for applications for people to be given firefighting knapsacks.
For ten years the local farmers in the Avoca and Kincumber area burnt their own properties in winter and protected the community from the threat of fire. In those days there was no lantana, the gullies were always too wet and there was a lot of rain forest flora. Whatever country was left beside the cultivated land was open forest country and it lent itself to a slow burn that was often conducted by experienced men who knew how and when to burn.
In 1947 Norman Hunter started to drum up interest in forming an official bushfire brigade at Avoca Beach. Although the population of Avoca Beach was growing, it wasn’t until 1948 that a unit was formed in the area. In Christmas of that year the area saw another big fire that threatened Avoca and surrounds.
The big Christmas fire of 1948 saw the Avoca Unit going to Barnhill Road in a commandeered local bus which reportedly nearly caught fire on the day. Unit members, volunteers from the camping area near the bridge and others from the surf club and the beach joined in the fray and headed up to the fire. Roy Parnell, the Captain of the Unit, was in charge of the backburn in the Barnhill Road / Scenic Highway area and was photographed by the Sydney Morning Herald making the first mention of the Avoca Unit, and later the Brigade, in the press. He was shown on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald with a caption that read “weary firefighter”.
In around 1953 the Avoca Beach Unit was recognised as a Brigade with Roy Parnell, who lost his entire citrus farm in the 1939 fires and then came to Avoca Beach to farm, as the first Captain of the Brigade. Along with Deputy Captain Ossie Bryant, Mr Parnell held the Field Officers positions for five years. During this time a kerosene refrigerator and some spilt kerosene started a house fire that gutted the house before the Brigade could arrive - this was the only loss to houses during this time.
In the early 1950s, and extending for considerable time after, the Brigade spent the winter months undertaking hazard reduction burns for a modest fee. This was a good source of income for the Brigade, but it also undoubtedly reduced the hazard each summer as most of the fires attended by the Brigade were outside the Avoca area. With no town water in these days firefighting was a dry argument with many of the men skilled in the art of backburning. It was the principal means of firefighting and driven by Mr Parnell’s knowledge.
In 1954 the Brigade got its first tender and it was housed at John Haslip’s garage, now the Lakeview Garage, which acted as an impromptu Brigade Station. Due to Mr Haslip’s commitments to his business he was unable to attend fires with the Brigade, but instead serviced the truck and maintained it in immaculate condition as his contribution to the Brigade.
In 1958 the Brigade built its first fire station in the Shark Tower car park by the beach. Like many things with the Brigade, it was funded with donations and constructed with volunteer labour who built the shed around the old Blitzwagon. Reportedly there was a miscalculation and the door was not big enough for the tender and, on the first instance of the Brigade being needed after its construction, the Blitzwagon was driven out of the Station via the brick wall. It was the first, but not the last time a Station was to suffer at the ‘hands’ of the Brigade tender.
The 1960s saw another large fire that threatened houses on Cape Three Points Road. Given that there was no town water available for firefighting, tanks were used and every available water source was called on. In fighting the fires, the tanker damaged a septic tank and used water from a house tank.
Several weeks later, the Brigade received a letter from both home-owners threatening legal action against an Avoca Beach Deputy for the damage and the cost of the water. There was no liability to protect the Brigade and a letter was sent to the residents billing them for man hours fighting the fire. There was no further correspondence on the matter.
It was in 1978 that the current Station was built on the corner of The Round Drive and Avoca Drive to house the new Bedford Fire Tanker. The station was built with material supplied by council and labour supplied by the local volunteers and others.
During this time Peter Patten and Don Bowtell held the keys to the station and would sound the siren as a “call to arms”. On one fire-call during these years Eric Walters couldn’t find the key to the roller door and, in the Brigade’s second door incident, backed out the closed door and attended the incident.
In around 1993 the old Bedford Fire Tanker was replaced with a Category 7 Mitsubishi Tanker. The Bedford was relocated to the Silverton Bush Fire brigade and was in use for many years following.
The Avoca Beach Brigade assisted in the January 1994 fires with two crews rotating four crew members, in some cases for 16-hour shifts. It was also in this year that the Category 7 Tanker, a smaller unit, was replaced with a Category 1 Tanker. The decision was made to get the larger Cat 1 tanker after trialling a 500 series tanker which was smaller, but carried the same amount of water. In order to house this new resource, the Station was extended and, for the first time in the Brigade’s history, the material and works was paid for in total by the NSWRFS and the Gosford City Council.
With the arrival of the new tanker, the Brigade was also fitted out with Breathing Apparatus that would allow fire fighters to enter structures and other areas with a toxic or absent atmosphere. Six of the members at this time were trained in the use of the specialist equipment and the Brigade still services the community with Breathing Apparatus equipment that is used regularly.
Bush Fire Safety
Like all NSW Rural Fire Brigades, the Avoca Beach Brigade is active in community engagement and educates and informs the wider community on several aspects of safety. The Brigade helps residents in the local area with Bush Fire Survival Plans. amongst other community engagement activities.