Thursday, 17 September 2015

Walker Street Fire Station

By the mid 1920s, the Townsville Fire Brigade, which had served the city since 1884, had outgrown its home next to the Town Hall in Flinders Street.
Firemen at the Central Fire Station, Townsville.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries Local History Collection.

A new fire station at the intersection of Stokes and Walker Streets officially opened on 24 July 1926, and at the time it was considered to be one of the most modern fire stations in the state.

Built at a cost of £10,500, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that the new station was “fully equipped with a fire-fighting plant which should enable the permanent brigade to give the best results.”

The new station boasted an engine-room that could accommodate four fire appliances and every care was taken to provide for the firefighters as well, with the inclusion of a gymnasium on site.

The drill yard at the back of the station contained a 54 ft. tall iron tower brought from the old station in Flinders Street and re-erected.  A wooden face was built on the side of the tower that faced Walker Street, which represented a four-storey building. This was used to train the firefighters in hook ladder, jumping and life-saving drills.  It also doubled as a hose-drying tower.
New Fire Station, open to the public, corner Walker and Stokes Streets, 1926.
Photo: Jefferey Collection, CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In a city that was often plagued by building fires, having an efficient fire brigade was crucial to the safety of citizens.  But the ability to fight fires effectively was sometimes less about having trained personnel and state-of-the-art equipment, and more about having sufficient water to actually fight the fires.

One disastrous fire that might have been extinguished sooner if a reliable water supply had been available was the fire at the Bulletin office in October 1912.

When fire broke out in the basement of the building in a reel of paper, the fire brigade were swiftly on the scene.  However, when they arrived they found that there was no water to fight the fire as the city council had switched off the water overnight in order to conserve the city’s precious water reserves.

The engineer at the Waterworks was notified, but it was 15 minutes before the water was turned on and then it took another 5 minutes to reach full pressure.

The report on the fire in the Cairns Post was scathing, pointing to the brigade’s outdated equipment.

“When the alarm was given, the Fire Brigade were quickly out, but owing to their antediluvian appliances they were unable to make the slightest impression on the blaze which within about twenty minutes had a complete hold of the building.”  

But a lack of water and antiquated equipment wasn’t the only problem. The brigade appears to have been somewhat lacking in overall organisation as well and at least six of the firefighters who attended the fire had no helmets.  Apparently in their rush to get to the fire, they had left their helmets at home.

Two of the firefighters without helmets were injured, one seriously. J.H. Foley was knocked unconscious when part of the building collapsed on top of him and he was taken to hospital in a critical condition.

At a meeting of the Fire Brigade Board the following month, one board member noted that the “system at the Bulletin fire appeared decidedly lax”.
Townsville Central Fire Station, no date.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment