Hastings Fire Brigade celebrates 75 years’ activity
Tonight, 300 guests will gather at the Hastings Assembly Hall for a dinner to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Hastings Fire Brigade.
The event was recalled earlier this week when the usual monthly meeting of brigade was held in the same room in the Hastings Hotel in which the inaugural meeting to form the brigade was called on January 4, 1886.
Guest of honour at tonight’s dinner will be the Dominion chief ofﬁcer of Fire Services, Mr T. A. Varley.
Over the following three days the executive of the United Fire Boards’ Association will be meeting in Hastings, and next month, as a further celebration of the jubilee, the United Fire Boards’ Association conference and annual competitions will be held in Hastings, centred on St. Leonard’s Park.
For this event, some 700 firemen and wives are likely to visit Hastings.
Sixteen men attended the inaugural meeting of the brigade in 1886, presided over by Mr Samuel Thomas Tong, who was elected brigade superintendent. He acted in this capacity as well as being fire inspector, for 12 years, and was later elected to the borough council.
Others present at the meeting were:- A. J. Faulknor (Deputy), J. Smith, H. Start, W. Beck (secretary), W. Keith, G. Land, H. Foreman, J. Cole, A. A. George, T. Stewart, A. Stanley, P. L. Scott, R. Wellwood (treasurer), and G. Goldsborough.
The first fire station was a loosebox known as Beecroft’s Stables near the present Grand Hotel. Helmets, belts and axes had to be ordered from England and arrived some five months after the brigade’s formation.
This eager, but ill-equipped body of volunteer firemen stands in vivid contrast with today’s brigade strength of 70 members, all ranks, eight of whom are on the permanent staff.
Today’s equipment too, is among the most up-to-date in the country. It consists of seven motor pump fire engines, three trailer pumps, six portable pumps, a salvage van and an inspection car.
Since the brigade’s inception, 33 members have gained the gold medal for 25 years’ service or more. Five present members are gold medal holders-namely the present chief officer, Mr L. R. G. Harlen (32 years), the third officer, W. Walker (25 years); fourth officer, W. Lane (26); senior fireman-driver, M. Tong (32) – a grandson of the first superintendent; and fireman R. Price (32).
The first fire fought by the brigade was in September 1886, and heartened no doubt by their success in combating it with little resultant damage, a team was sent to Dunedin in the following year to compete in the fire brigades’ demonstrations.
By February 1888, the brigade was equipped with a manual engine and a reel and hose, and was thought to be well set up to meet any emergency.
Despite this, a fire destroyed the house of Mr M. Neil in 1889, and another at Dr Faulkner’s stables had to be fought with buckets and a human chain when the hose was found to be too short to reach from the nearest well.
The grant from the borough council to the brigade in 1890 was £25.
There appeared to be some difference of opinion between the borough council and the brigade as to who should control the firefighting appliances (valued in 1891 at £390), and this led to the resignation of the first superintendent, Mr Tong.
His successor, Mr W. Beck, resigned after six months because of pressure of business.
Mr C. Brausch, a colourful German, succeeded him, and held the position continuously for 29 years.
As the result of a big fire in 1893, involving premises on both sides of Heretaunga Street, when it was necessary to bring the steam fire engine by train from Napier, the Hastings manual engine was admitted to be insufficient and the council decided to buy its own steam fire engine at a cost of £1100. This was highly successful, operating on water drawn from the sewer – which often led to ribald comment during operations.
About 1897 fires were so frequent in Hastings that it was called the town of blazes, and in the built-up wooden centre of the borough, a fire once started could spread rapidly to nearby business premises.
Because of this the brigade developed rapidly in strength to meet the area’s needs.
A thumbnail history of the brigade to the present day is:-
1901.- Outbreak of fire in the ss Waimate in Napier Harbour: Hastings engine taken by rail to Napier to fight the blaze, which was brought under control after several hours’ pumping.
1903. – Fireman J. Gill accidentally killed at competitions in Napier. Engineer F. A. Leipst and Fireman J. Flynn were members of a New Zealand representative team to compete in Austraila.
1907. – Disastrous fire in Williams and Kettle’s, Heretaunga Street, spread to the Bank of New Zealand and a nearby cafe.
1908. – Hastings constituted a fire district and fire board formed.
1911. – Section bought corner Market Street and Lyndon Road as site for fire station.
1912. – High pressure water supply introduced to Hastings.
1915. – Resignation of Superintendent Brausch. One fireman killed on active service First World War.
1921. – Hastings runner-up in New Zealand championships at Napier.
1927. – Duplex fire alarm installed.
1930. – Superintendent W. Keith resigned after completing 40 years’ service. R. Henderson appointed his successor.
1931. – Fire station completely wrecked by earthquake, motors trapped under debris took sometime to clear, but were removed in time to combat some of the fires started in the ruins of the town. Failure of water supply resulted in burning down of the Grand Hotel. Present site in Hastings Street chosen for rebuilding station.
Since the earthquake, major fires have not been numerous. though the brigade answers between 200 and 300 calls a year.
In recent years, Hastings staff have experimented in the building of some of their own equipment, and have even built for other stations.
In 1943 the brigade constructed the first covered-in fire-engine in New Zealand, and during the war years the emergency fire service was equipped with trailer pumps.
1951. – Superintendent R. Henderson and his deputy, H. Price retired. The offices were re-titled and Mr L. R. G. Harlen became Chief Fire Officer with Mr R. A. Cole as his deputy.
1952. – Combination fire engine unit built by brigade staff.
1953. – United Urban Fire District formed with the inclusion of Haumoana and Havelock North in the Hastings district. UFBA conference and competitions held in Hastings. Hastings won the New Zealand championship, the Wellington provincial championship and the Hawke’s Bay fire boards’ championship.
1955. – A new Dennis fire engine commissioned.
1956 – Six firemen’s flats built. Permanent deputy, Mr L. H. Jillings, appointed.
1957. – Two tankers built by staff – one for Napier. New station built by staff at Haumoana.
1959. – New Carrier Gamecock engine commissioned.
1960. – New station built at Havelock North. Storey added to headquarters hose-drying tower.
Photo captions –
The Shand Mason steamer shown above was the latest in fire-fighting appliances when it was in use in Hastings around the turn of the century. It was drawn by a pair of horses. Pictured at left is Mr S. T. Tong, ﬁrst superintendent of the Hastings Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1886.
This was the Hastings Fire Brigade in 1886. The ﬁve men standing on the appliance at the rear are, from left: Messrs C. Brausch, J. Smith, W. Keith, A. Stanley and A. A. George. In front are Deputy Superintendent Faulkner, Messrs T. Stewart, O. Hansen, R. Jeffares, W. Beck, W. Northe, J. Goldsborough, J. Melville an…