Newlands Volunteer Fire Brigade

The Beginning

In the beginning, like any other small village surrounded by gorse covered hills, fires raged periodically out of control, clearing gorse and depositing the ash to assist the regeneration of further gorse for further burning. Gradually however, a population hungry for residential land and small holdings came to Newlands and reduced the gorse. Being human and the cause of most fires, the new residents found the fire was something to fear and could wipe out their hard won assets in next to no time and seriously endanger life itself. When any fire did occur the nearest Fire Brigade was at Johnsonville some distance away. The roads were narrow and windy, unsealed with one-way bridges, totally different to the position we know today. Access to Newlands was by way of Ngauranga Gorge and Newlands Road or by Helston Road and Bracken Road. There was no reticulated water for fire fighting purposes although a very small diameter pipe did supply some households with water from a dam several miles away to the Northeast. The streams that flowed in the area, now almost completely piped, were the prime source of water for fire fighting and particular sections of these streams were prepared in such a way that boards could be dropped into place to dam the water to enable pumps to be got to work. The Johnsonville fire appliances carried boards for this very purpose. The streams were naturally at the bottom of the hills and as the fires burnt up the hills it was often necessary to lay long lines of hose to get water to the fire scene. When a fire did occur the Johnsonville Volunteer Brigade assisted by the Khandallah and Thorndon Brigades responded to the scene. These latter two Brigades had much further to travel. Time was of the essence to control and extinguish fires before too much damage occurs so it was not long before minds began to turn to the thought of how a faster response could be achieved from a fire service within the growing area. Several house fires highlighted the need for positive action and in the mid- 1950s action commenced to establish a fire-fighting unit. An incident occurred on Guy Fawkes night 1956, when the local scout group held the usual celebrations with a bonfire on a vacant section. This resulted in a complaint of an unauthorised bonfire and a visit from the Johnsonville Brigade. Some disagreement resulted between the organisers and the Brigade with the local Progressive Association lodging a complaint with the Wellington Fire Brigades Inspector over the handling of the matter. Apologies were later offered and accepted by the Scout Group. The Newlands-Paparangi Progressive Association began to discuss the need for a local small Fire Brigade at a meeting late in 1957. Around that time a local resident, Mr Stan Francis, became a recruit to the Wellington Volunteer Fire Police attached to the Wellington Fire Brigade. This Fire Police Unit had been formed before the turn of the century to assist the Wellington Brigade at major incidents and to protect stock from smoke and water damage. Members of the Fire Police lived within the City or very close-by and were formed into geographical squads - eastern suburbs, southern suburbs and a northern suburbs squad to be formed if there were sufficient members offering themselves for service. Mention of the wish to form a squad of Fire Police in the Newlands area was made in the monthly local newspaper circulated by the Progressive Association - the 'Newlands Paparangi Times' - and resulted in a further five local residents becoming members of the Wellington Fire Police. Ken J Douglas, Cliff Latham, Em Wallace, Tony Robinson and Ken Mills were sworn in as members on 25 November 1957. Stan Francis had been sworn in a month previously. As Fire Policemen they had invested in them the powers of a constable at any fire incident to which they were called. Discussion had in the meantime been taking place between the Progressive Association and the Superintendent of the Wellington Fire Police (later to be known as the Chief Fire Officer). The Superintendent, Mr Harry Bruce, agreed to supply fire fighting equipment for use by the Fire Police Unit based in Newlands, if the local community could provide somewhere to house the equipment. Several offers of land were received from local residents but each was rejected by the Fire Board for differing reasons as being unsuitable. The Fire Police were willing to erect a shed to house the equipment provided a suitable site could be found. Meanwhile fires continued to occur from time to time in the area and members of the Fire Police assisted the Johnsonville Brigade at these calls. The Fire Police were also mobilised on a number of occasions to attend fires in the Wellington City. A notable example was the Aotea Quay fire, which destroyed a Railways Woolstore and the Head Office of the then National Airways Corporation. Discussions continued with the Fire Board and its Chief Officer who was firmly of the opinion that there was a need for permanent fire fighting equipment to be situated in Newlands. Following a public meeting on 30 October 1958 on the matter, a piece of land belonging to the Newlands Recreation Club and adjacent to their Hall in Newlands Road was offered to the Wellington Fire Police for their use subject to its being transferred to the Wellington City Council. In the event the land was no longer required for Fire Brigade purposes it would revert to its former use. A house-to-house collection to raise funds from the residents of Newlands gathered $201 towards the cost of a building to house the fire fighting equipment. Long discussions were taking place at this time between Fire Service Council (the central authority governing the Fire Service in New Zealand) and the Fire Board on the matter of forming a properly constituted Volunteer Fire Brigade in Newlands. The funds raised within Newlands were used by the Progressive Association to purchase an ex-Army workshop from Fort Dorset Army Camp. With the assistance of residents and the Fire Police, this building was transported - not without some difficulty - to Newlands to be erected on the site of the present Fire Station. This building has been added to over the years but remains the Fire Station of today, the original building being the appliance bay and the storeroom to the rear. Many long hours of 'working bees' were put in to make the 'shed' habitable. Protracted negotiations between the Fire Board and the City Council finally resolved the land being transferred to the Council in 1962. The Fire Police Unit was still part of the Wellington Fire Police and responded whenever called to fires in the city. It was possible for Newlands to be completely depleted of fire fighting personnel should a large fire, or fires, require further resources in the city and changes were made to ensure there were some resources left available in Newlands. The position was however, far from satisfactory. The Fire Police Unit did not have the benefits of a Volunteer Fire Brigade under the Fire Service legislation. Service honours were not available nor accident insurance cover under the United Fire Brigades Association scheme and no financial grant was available from the Wellington Fire Board. The Fire Board was aware of these shortcomings and of the unusual legal position the members were in when compared with other Fire Police Units elsewhere in the country. Even within the Wellington Fire Police, the Newlands Unit was unique as the Wellington Fire Police did not have fire fighting equipment allocated for their sole use. The Wellington Fire Police were, and still are, quite unique in that they have become involved in actual fire fighting when required to, as well as crowd control, salvage work or traffic control. Steps were taken to invite the Newlands Unit of the Fire Police to form the Newlands Volunteer Fire Brigade and in 1965 the Brigade was established and registered with the United Fire Brigades Association and the Fire Service Council with all but one of the members of the Newlands Fire Police Unit joining the new Brigade. With the formation of the Brigade the Fire Board approved the expansion of the fire station 'shed' to include a recreation room, toilet facilities, kitchen and watchroom. The Brigade has staffed the present station since, and when necessary, have carried out painting and minor maintenance. Regular training has been a feature of the Brigade, wet or fine. Weekly training sessions are held and many members have gone further afield for more specialised training at the Fire Service College at Island Bay or the decentralised Training Centre at Kilbirnie. In 1976 the Fire Service was nationalised and the local Fire Boards abolished. The Fire Service Commission replaced the Fire Service Council and like many other small brigades around the country the Newlands Brigade benefited from the new Organisation. Better uniforms, both undress and fire fighting, became available and a general upgrading of equipment began. Greater availability of appliances and the pensioning off of older machines also meant that the problem of regular temporary removal of the pump appliance assigned to Newlands became far less of an event. At some stages one did not know what type of appliance one would expect to find in the station when responding to a call. On one particular occasion, the Brigade was required to proceed and standby at the Wellington Central Fire Station with the appliance known as the 'Bread Van'. This appliance was, in effect, a troop carrier and although it carried a hose reel and a small tank of water it was of little use at a fire of any consequence. On this occasion the 'Bread Van' carried a portable Coventry Climax pump but there was no means of starting the pump! A further reorganisation within the Wellington Region and the abolition of the separate Fire Districts of Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Petone and Porirua and their amalgamation into the Wellington Fire Brigade brought the Newlands Brigade into a Sector Command concept under the Western Command based at Porirua for administration purposes. This again changed with Newlands and Johnsonville Brigades being placed under Central Command. However, that did not last long and Newlands, Johnsonville, Khandallah and Northland Stations were all transferred to Western Command, based at Porirua Station.