Coramba Rural Fire Brigade

Dorrigo Lane


Postal Address:
C/- Post Office

ABN 612 475 158 27

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A brief History of the Coramba RFB

By John Bojarski

Coramba, being surrounded by lush, sub tropical forests, has always been prone to bush fires.  Besides natural occurrences, fires were caused by itinerant railway workers and burn offs getting out of control.  Until the early Fifties, fire fighting was conducted by individuals and groups of neighbours, in an ad hoc way.  It was then seen as prudent to form a more organized group to battle fires in the town and immediate surrounds.

On 11 November, 1952, a meeting was held by 16 residents to form the Coramba Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.  Bill Manning was elected Captain and a submission made to Dorrigo Shire Council, who administered the area at that time, for fire fighting equipment and a copy of the NSW Bushfire Act.  As well, boundaries for an area of responsibility were set.

During the next few years, the Brigade reorganised and grew.  Equipment and funding were always a problem, as they still are today.  Where the Shire could or would not provide, requests were made to government authorities and local residents were asked for donations.  Fund raising through Lamington Drives, organised events, water delivery utilising the tankers and raffles, helped to buy the basic necessities to enable volunteers to carry out their tasks.

By 1978, as the Brigade accumulated more equipment, storage became a priority.  Deputy Captains were required to hold and maintain stores at home and then make them available as needed.  The water trailer was kept behind the old baker’s shop but had to be empty as it was too hard to manoeuvre when full and fire fighting vehicles, as they came on line, were being parked on the street.  The need for a Fire Station was urgent but no suitable land was available. The Brigade wrote to the CWA with a proposal to use their land in Martin Street, but it came to no avail.  Though not the most suitable, approval was finally given in 1981 to build a shed in the lane off Dorrigo Street, the present site.  After the construction was completed, it still required fitting out to make it functional.  This was achieved by donations of material from local traders and the labour of the members. Later, in 1994, a second shed was built on the site, being reconstructed from the old fire shed at Bon Glen.  Again it was up to the members to provide the money and labour to complete, but at last they had enough space to house their equipment and vehicles and some room for training and meetings.  Though still waiting the final go ahead, it is anticipated that the new station, to be built near the railway bridge, will be completed by the end of 2008.

Getting to a fire and carrying the needed equipment was a problem.  The Brigade did not have a vehicle and members had to make their own way.  Ron Wilson, who ran a taxi service in Coramba, often used his Buick to convey the volunteers.  In 1978, the Brigade received its first vehicle.  It was an ex Forestry, Fire Fighting Tanker with a 1,000 gallon (4,500l) tank, supplied by the Coffs Harbour Shire Council, but the Brigade members had to collect it from Barradine.  It stayed in service until 1982 when it was it was condemned as no longer serviceable.  A 30 year old SWB Landrover was bought in 1980 and christened “Percy”, after Perce Bulley, a Fire Control Officer (FCO) at the time.  It was fitted out with a water tank and pump and used as a mop up unit and stayed in service for many years.  The next year, a LWB Landrover, a Cat 12, “Blundell’s Express”, after Geoff Blundell, another FCO, was purchased for $2000 and set up for rescue, personnel carriage and mobile communications.  The Coffs Harbour Jaycees helped to equip the vehicle with comfort items so that it could also be used for welfare and first aid.  At the time it was the only vehicle of its type between Newcastle and Lismore and served until March 1996.  The Brigade received an Acco 510A tanker in 1982, to replace the old Bedford.  It was later modified to make it more practical.  A crew cab, donated by Geoff King of Geoff King Motors and installed by the Brigade, made it much more comfortable for crews attending fires.  The Acco stayed in service until 1993 when it was replaced by a Cat 2 Isuzu 500 which itself was replaced by a Cat 1 Isuzu 750 in 1997.  A new Nissan 4WD Cat 9 came into service from 1995 to 2001 when it was replaced by a Toyota Land Cruiser Cat 12 Personnel Carrier, still currently serving.  Christmas 2000, saw the Brigade take delivery of a new Isuzu Cat 7, having the capacity to carry 1100 litres of water and three crew members comfortably and is still in service.  March 2002 saw the introduction of a new Isuzu 750A Cat 1 and still currently serving the Brigade.  In December 2005, the Brigade was lucky enough to have been offered the return of “Percy”.  It had been stored in a former member’s shed and discovered during a fire inspection.  “Percy” is now back at the Brigade and being restored by Brigade members, including some who were involved in the original fitting out.

Among any group operating in an emergency capacity, communications are vital.  Initially, members were notified of fires by a quick telephone call which was organised through a telephone tree, where members telephoned other members on their list.  A siren was mounted on the roof of Cliff Bursle’s home in Gale Street and operated manually when a fire call came in.  The siren was later moved to the Fire Station and now is activated remotely.  Radio communications were the most desirable but in the early eighties, not very reliable.  Access to two way radios was given to FCOs and Group Captains in 1978, but not until two years later to Brigades.  Even they were not satisfactory as the terrain around Coramba caused a number of “Black Spots” where radio signals did not reach.  CB radios were used between vehicles and other Brigades.  Base Stations set up at the homes of Allan Woods and Vic Smith allowed communications with vehicles at the fire ground, enabling supplies of food and relief of personnel to be organised.  Communications have improved greatly in more recent times.  Each vehicle is now fitted with radio and a central control system, relayed through a repeater station on Mount Coramba, is in place.  Hand held radios are available to use within the Brigade, allowing Captains and Crew Leaders to maintain control and react to changes almost instantly.  The telephone tree has now been replaced by pagers issued to each qualified fire fighter, so reaction time to a call out is greatly reduced.

Since its inception the Brigade has been involved in many fires and disasters both great and small.  Training has always been a priority to enable members to cope with all types of foreseen and unforeseen situations.  In 1981 the Brigade participated in “Operation Fokker”, an aircraft disaster exercise involving all emergency services, held at Coffs Harbour airfield with commendable result.  As well as fighting local fires, the Brigade has assisted other Brigades throughout the state, including some of the worst fires in the last 50 years, such as the Bobo fires in 1994; the Turramurra area fires of 2002; Tenterfield, Canberra, Snowy Mountains, Tumut and Lithgow in 2003; and Dubbo, Singleton and Como in the last couple of years.  Apart from fighting fires, the Brigade has assisted in disaster relief during times of flood and storm.  Sadly, one of its more common tasks is to support police and ambulance at motor vehicle accidents and they do so in an exemplary manner.

No organisation could survive without the dedication of its members.  Over the years many have contributed to the Brigade to the limits of their ability or capacity, be it a lot or little, to make the Brigade a premier in Coffs Harbour if not NSW.  Some members have been granted Life Membership in the Brigade for their outstanding contribution, Ron Wilson of the Buick taxi in 1981, Vic and Eileen Smith in 1997 and Allan Woods in 1992.  These and others have been recognised by a grant of National Awards; Allan Woods, Meritorious Service Award (MSA) and National Medal (NM); Vic Smith MSA and NM; Eileen Smith MSA and NM; Elaine Woods NM; and, Bill Summerhill NM. 

The Brigade has had a number of changes in its organisation and structure during its existence.  From humble beginnings as the Coramba Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade, to now the Coramba Rural Fire Brigade, with a fleet of three modern fire fighting vehicles and a highly trained, committed volunteer membership.