Home' Greymouth Star : April 29th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
Saturday, April 29, 2017 — 7
6 — Saturday, April 29, 2017
he Greymouth Fire
Brigade was established in
1867 and the first officers
were elected on May 2,
with Mr Whall as captain
and the secretary Mr De Costa instructed
to draw up a code of bylaws for the new
A series of pumps were imported from
Melbourne, stored at the original engine
house in Boundary Street, where regular
practices were carried out pumping water
from the nearby Grey River.
The first brigade was made up of 30
volunteers and it was quick to put in place
a system for access to water in the greater
central business district in the event of an
Standpipes were installed at Mackay—
Guinness street intersection, Herbert
Street and along Mawhera Quay; a 28—
foot standpipe installed in front of the
Albion Hotel (now Kingsgate) reached
from the street to the Grey River.
Through those early times the brigade
continued to build its firefighting arsenal
ladders, hoses, hose reels, lamps, tunics
and hats, as well as extending the original
The early town was marked by large
fires. A disastrous fire occurred on
Mawhera Quay on June 11, 1869,
starting at the rear of the Melbourne
Hotel on the corner of Werita Street and
Mawhera Quay, next to the present day
Greymouth Star, and eventually engulfing
14 businesses, including four hotels and
three banks. Issues with the suction hose,
combined with strong winds, saw the fire
Only a few months later, in April 1870,
a dressmaker’s shop, bootmaker’s shop
and a tailor’s shop were destroyed, and
the press office was badly damaged, but
the people living above the shops were
evacuated and there was no loss of life.
On February 1872 a large fire destroyed
the Strike and Blackmore Brewery in
Gresson Street, along with 10 houses.
Mawhera Quay was the busiest street
in town and it followed that it was also
the scene of some of the largest fires.
After the big fire of 1869, disaster struck
again in 1892 and then 1894, when W
R Kettle’s large wooden building was
engulfed in flames, taking the entire block
In 1912 the new two-storey central
fire station in Boundary Street was
commissioned and the Greymouth
Fire Brigade was now fully resourced
with mobile appliances and equipment;
a subsidiary station was built in High
Street in 1927.
During the late 1920s through to
1950 the brigade attended numerous
large fires, including the Victoria Park
grandstand fire of 1926 and the Duncan
McLean Hardware Merchants premises
in Boundary Street; two officers and 17
members attended that fire.
That year the Dennis fire engine and
staff attended a large fire at Ogilvie’s
sawmill and were on hand when fire
destroyed the original Royal Hotel on
Mawhera Quay in 1930, while a year later
the Union Hotel suffered extensive fire
damage but the fire was contained and
the pub sur vives to this day, although four
people perished in that fire.
As a result of the tragic Ballantynes
fire in Christchurch, the Fire Service
Act 1949 was passed by Parliament,
bringing about the whole reorganisation
of fire services in New Zealand in both
permanent and volunteer brigades.
Equipment, pumps and appliances
were all brought under a NZ standard
specification. (Another change is due on
July 1 this year, when the Fire Service will
be restructured as Fire Emergency New
Zealand, or FENZ)
During the 1950s the brigade was
involved in fighting some memorable
fires in extreme conditions, including the
old Holy Trinity Church in Guinness
Street in 1956, the Opera House of 1958 and the Harbour Board
Powerhouse fire of 1959.
The Opera House — on the exact site now occupied by the
former St James Theatre (now known as ‘Brunner House’) — was
the largest wooden building in Greymouth at the time.
The brigade’s longest surviving fireman, 89-year-old Tom
Cameron remembers the fires well and says the building was well
ablaze when the brigade arrived.
“It was an inferno, and thick smoke billowed across the central
town. We brought in extra crews from Runanga and Cobden.
Runanga brigade had just got a new appliance and pump, but
it was a matter of trying to contain the fire. The smoke and the
fumes from the seating drove you back out. It just went up while
we tried to contain it and eventually the building collapsed out —
it was such a big fire.
“We were conscious of protecting Dey’s (Panelbeaters, now
Y Furniture), Frank Bell’s and McGlashan’s across the road, and
at the southern end of the burning Opera House was Frank
Grogan’s cordial factory and we had to protect that, too.”
Tom Cameron volunteered for the Greymouth Fire Brigade
in 1950 and used to live in the old two-storey fire station in
Boundary Street in the mid-1950s.
One of the big fires of his early career was the Anglican church
fire in 1956.
“I rode my bike around to the fire and parked my two-wheeler
across the road, where the Workingmen’s Club now is. The church
was a wooden building, a tinderbox and it was well ablaze. We
had the Dennis fire engine there and the ex-army Ford four-
wheel-drive, which towed the pump. Once again the heat was
intense, and we had to keep an eye on the buildings close by.
“Afterwards, when I went to my bike to ride back to the station,
both of my tyres had popped from the heat — that’s how hot it
was that day.
“When you go to fires you don’t see too much going on as you
are focused on what you are doing, and we didn’t have much
protection back then — just a snorkel, not like all the gear they
For Tom, the Greymouth deputy fire chief for 13 years, and
older generations, the familiar sound of the Saturday siren was
always the midday clock for the Greymouth community, and the
sight of hoses drying from the tower and the red engines lazing
in the sun until called for duty was a familiar picture.
He worked under a number of fire chiefs and enjoyed fighting
fires under their command.
“I worked under Tony MacIntosh, George Nelson senior, Jim
Grant, George Nelson junior and Ted Saunders. They were good
days, good guys.”
The old fire station was condemned in the wake of the 1968
Inangahua earthquake and the station was relocated to the
Greymouth Power Board building, operating from this temporary
site until the current fire station was built and officially opened in
Alan McEnaney is a long-serving former fire chief for the
Greymouth Volunteer Fire Brigade since joining in 1955; he only
retired as fire chief in 2014.
The McEnaney family has a long history serving the Greynouth
“My dad, Frank, started in the brigade in 1924 and there has
been a family member in the brigade right up to my retirement,
in 2014. A lot of years of service — my brothers Graham, Paul,
Brian and myself, and my wife Diana was the stationkeeper for
While today the Fire Service has the very best in technology
and equipment, back in his early years with the brigade the 1942
trailer pump served its purpose.
“They were really good pumps, built specifically for the war
in Britain. They were part of the arsenal, but there was always
limited access to water. There wasn’t the pressure in the mains.
We used to boost it with a pump but it didn’t always work as we
used to suck the mains dry. Sometimes we would have to use
ponds and so forth as an alternative water supply.”
Alan reflects on some of the fires and emergencies he was
involved with and the potential hazards which crop up every now
“Probably too many really but the large Duncan Hardie
building on Mackay Street, a large wooden building next to
where John Burns used to be, certainly comes to mind.
“George Nelson was fire chief at the time and we were called
to the fire on Saturday afternoon. It was on my birthday October
31, 1966. It was a big fire, plenty of heat. That blaze took a lot of
controlling, and the Cobden brigade turned out as well.
“I wasn’t there for the Opera House fire but did attend the fire
when Barry Dallas’s surgery went up, at the bottom of Pukatahi
Street. The place actually burned to the ground and couldn’t be
saved — arson was suspected in that one.
“We averted a major disaster the time a petrol tanker got
the side of its tank full of petrol ripped open on the top of the
Omoto Hill, spewing a trail of petrol behind it. That could have
turned really bad, but we diverted the tanker up Tainui Street and
down the Brewery Hill and around to Mobil in William Street.
The CBD drains were awash with petrol and a match or cigarette
could have set the town alight with a bang,” Alan said.
“We used a lot of foam and a lot of water to dilute the petrol
and blocked all the streets off. The worry was, of course, the whole
town could go up.”
Brian McEnaney joined in 1957 and in his time he attended
many large fires in Greymouth including the Opera House, the
Duncan Hardie fire and the Harbour Board Powerhouse blaze of
“We had had a few false alarms at the Opera House, but that
morning was no false alarm,” Brian recalled.
“All the smoke blew down Albert Street, it was thick. There
would have been around 40 firemen fighting the fire — two
Greymouth pumps and one each from Cobden and Runanga. We
fought it from the front, in Tainui Street, and from the side. The
Runanga pump was brand new and was mounted on the front of
the cab of the truck. The Opera House was too far gone when we
got there, so basically we had to contain it and fight it from the
back as well.”
The Duncan Hardie fire was a major outbreak just 200m from
the old fire station.
“It was a big fire, a lot of firremen attended that one. It was a
Saturday afternoon, as I recall. I remember, too, attending the
Harbour Board Powerhouse in 1959. It used to provide water
pressure to operate the cranes on the wharf.
“It was a good fire. I think we got the alarm at 11 o’clock in the
morning. Water was drawn from Mackay, Guinness and Herbert
streets, but it was too far gone.”
Current Greymouth chief fire officer Lee Swinburn says a lot
of water has passed through canvas hoses in 150 years, and the
profile of today’s modern operation has changed out of sight from
those early days.
“Over the past 20 years it has been changing to not only the
fires but also an increase in the emergency services attending
vehicle accidents and hazardous substance spills, more medical
calls to assist with St John and line rescue.
“We can get mass numbers of staff to an emergency in a very
Mr Swinburn says the sesquicentennial is a fine achievement.
“The Greymouth brigade has a strong presence of long-serving
members. The weekend will be a good opportunity for families
such as the McEnaneys and the Waltons to reunite.”
Since 1867 the Greymouth Volunteer Fire Brigade has kept a protective
watch over the town and its people, fighting fires wherever they
threatened and preventing a lot more by its quick action. As the brigade
this weekend celebrates its sesquicentennial, PAUL McBRIDE flicks
through the history book and photo albums while the Greymouth Star
salutes 150 years of proud voluntary service.
150 years of the
Greymouth Fire Brigade
Opera House, Februar y 4, 1958.
Trans West depot fire, 1989.
The old wooden Omoto Racecourse grandstand, burned during a fire exercise in 1988.
Duncan Hardie, October 1966.
The Commercial Hotel and grain shop, November 1984.
Commercial Hotel, 1984.
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