GLEN FORREST BRIGADE HISTORY

There was agitation for some fire precaution, prevention and protection organisation at least from the late 1940s, especially after a home was destroyed by fire. The Glen Forrest Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade was proposed in early November 1949 by the Glen Forrest Progress Association, Hon. Secretary Nancy McGlew. A request (unsuccessful) was made to Mundaring Road Board (now Shire) for mobile pumping units for Glen Forrest and Darlington brigades.  

GFVBFB was registered on 4th April, 1950 when, at the first formal meeting the office bearers were:-

Captain Arthur Buckle, Lieutenants A.C. ‘Boog’ Summers (and Vice Captain) and F.J. Fletcher, Chairman A. Johnson, Secretary Jack Starr and Treasurer Llew Morgan. Among things discussed at this meeting were the canvassing of insurance agencies for donations (unsuccessful), an instructional film to be shown and the first draft of the district fire map.  

Funds in hand by June 1950 were 29 pounds 12 shillings and sixpence. Meetings were held at various venues, frequently the GF Garden Centre, home of Peter Taylor. Our Fire District boundaries were; North: York Road, East: Bailey Road, South: Helena River, West: Bilgoman Road. A.C. Summers was Fire Control Officer and Section Leaders John Major, Bob Walker, Stacey then Doug Lawrence and Wilfred Couchman. Equipment requested: 5 pump sprays, 2 rakes, 1 spade per section. Price of pump outfit was prohibitive.

The earliest callout system was that Nancy Morgan, the Postmistress, would be notified of a fire then she would phone around for help and later there was a WWII air raid siren at the PO for her to use.

July 1950, work began on a Constitution, there was a concert and dance for fund raising and the FCO commented unfavourably on the lack of attendance at the last burn off! August saw first part of Constitution adopted. September, obtained drums from Shell Oil Co as water containers, discussed First Aid Kit and overhead standpipes. October, obtained sleepers for ramps to hold water drums. 44 gal drums of water were kept at strategic locations around the district, in readiness.

March 1951, 200 gal tank was ordered from Boans Ltd. May, lack of meeting attendance noted. November, levy of one shilling each towards pump, Captain A. Buckle resigns.

January 1952, discussion on inadequate water pressure in GF, new captain, women fire fighters and five illegal fires. October, Captain and President F. Ward, Committee of Management was formed.

March 1953, still trying to arrange truck available to transport 200 gal tanks to fires. September AGM, broadcasts warning of fire need to be more explicit and no move has been made to utilize armed forces for subduing fire and fire risk.

There was a lapse of formal activity between December 1955 and November 1965 when there was a renewal meeting but another was needed in June 1971 (after a ‘stir up’ meeting called by the Shire) in an attempt to reform the brigade when the first FCO, Boog Summers, retired. There were only five members carrying on. Secretary Bob Walker (in that position for about forty years) listed equipment as shovels, rakes, tanks, hoses, ladders, knapsacks. Stan Beer, FCO of Mahogany Creek, officiated at first. The district was divided into sectors with an officer responsible for each:- SW sector, Captain and President Ross Ward; Central, Frank Beadle; NE, J.R. Jager; SE, Max Sparks; NW, R. Walker.

In the 1960s, the Brigade didn’t have much fire fighting equipment. After getting bush fires controlled, members were rostered for considerable periods of time to camp near burning stags waiting for them to fall or go out. Sometime around 1965, the Brigade purchased a wooden extension ladder so that at least some stags could be extinguished. The ladder was stored at Frank Beadle’s home and was taken to fires on the roof rack of his Holden. Frank had to negotiate corners carefully as the ladder was very heavy. Buckets of water were carried up the ladder and poured into the stags.

A quiet spell again between ’68 and ’71 when Don Spencer was elected FCO until 1982 except for FCO Peter Taylor’s year from 1977.   From about mid seventies John Herington attended meetings as Shire liaison.  

In 1971 Brigade still had winter recess and no Sunday burning off allowed. Mahogany Creek Brigade closed down so GF took some of their equipment and area to cover.

In 1972 a Commer truck was available, refitted and equipment installed by Dick Nadort who also rewired the Mahogany Creek burnt out siren to use on it. Possibly best in parade at Eastern Hills Agricultural Show!   Bob Kemp, Captain.

1973, discussion on radios (loud hailers cheaper), GF to cover Hovea, Captain Dick Nadort.

January 1974 the Shire fire unit Toyota MDG-072 was handed over to Brigade. A letter was sent to Shire asking for bylaws to be altered to allow women to become firefighters in Bush Fire Brigades.   Shire BBQ and Radford Shield established. Shire contracts for tree watering were a source of income for several years as well as the normal private burning off.

First ‘fire station’ from September 1975 was a garden shed on the McGlew Road property of Claude Burgess, at peppercorn rent. The first Toyota vehicle was kept there. At some stage there was a tractor with water tank for wetting sacks for beating. Aerial firebreak inspections began. John Gilfellon (Mundaring) badly burned. Suggestion of trail bike for FCO or his ‘runner’! Acquired gloves, waterbags and possibly first overalls.  

December 1976, Don Spencer requested that the Brigade be given by the Shire a 1942/4 Ford Blitz Wagon which had come from Woorooloo Brigade. It had been deteriorating at the Shire depot. Don rebuilt the Blitz and fitted it with a water tank and fire pump.   (Commer sold for $25). Max Williams became Chief FCO.

March ’77, Mundaring policeman Harry Weeks severely tests fire unit. Mundaring Red Cross trying to organise refreshments for firefighters.

April ’78 Cyclone Alby, fourteen fires in Shire. One house destroyed in Glen Forrest.

May ’79, simulated aircraft crash exercise at Boya quarry.

Always anecdotes available, such as that of two members attending a blaze to be confronted with an irate and inebriated occupant brandishing a rifle – blaze was not extinguished. The old US army Ford ‘Blitz Buggy’, a Brigade favourite character, was Don Spencer’s ‘baby’ (‘Snapdragon’) but she took some understanding and needed to be parked on enough slope to start her but not too much for the brakes to hold. This sometimes took a while to find the right spot, meantime the fire…!  

Don eventually fitted an auxiliary generator driven by a small petrol engine to overcome the battery problems but this was removed for reasons unknown after Don resigned. Despite it’s shortcomings, all the work done on the Blitz was made worthwhile in just one incident when a new Shire tanker became trapped in a steep gully. The Blitz was the only vehicle around at the time capable of getting to the site and it’s powerful engine-driven winch recovered the trapped tanker.

Early 1981 discussion started on obtaining our own shed. Later, use of foam was a new idea investigated but not taken up for some time.

August ’82 a secondhand shed was brought to the Marnie Road site provided by Shire, next to the playgroup, and after much volunteer work it was occupied by Christmas ’83. Additions and improvements continued for years. Brigade had to provide almost all equipment for itself.

July ’85, school evacuation exercise. Brigade makes news in Sunday Times article “Mums take Guard on Fire Front” after all women Glen Forrest crew (Jenny Oxford, Carrol Spatcher and Pat Walmsley) fights fire on reporter’s property. Brigade features in follow-up Channel Seven current affairs programme on participation of women in bush fire brigades.

In 1985 the Blitz was again refurbished, except for the brakes which continued to be a problem. Don Spencer re-joined the Brigade in the late ‘80s and fixed the brakes. Unfortunately, the brakes were reported to have been repaired before Don had actually finished re-assembling them and the Blitz made one trip to a serious fire without any brakes at all. Luckily though, it could be stopped very quickly under engine compression, due to its low gearing, by turning off the ignition. It continued to serve the Brigade till about 1992. The Blitz is now a Shire museum piece and Lee Howlett donated to Brigade a splendid painting she did of it.

The fire mentioned above was one of the potentially most serious fires in our area, started by a caravan and it’s towing vehicle jack-knifing and crushing it’s LPG tank, at the top of Greenmount Hill on a day that a new high temperature record for Perth was set. The fire spread quickly from the caravan into the Park and then jumped to the South side of the highway fanned by strong winds. Every fire appliance in the Shire attended and the fire reached the west side of Darlington Road before it was stopped.

January ’86, a mention of so many capped hydrants in the area and by spring the radio mast raised.

1987, the Brigade was Incorporated. On a Shire 6’ x 4’ trailer FCO Eric Smith and John Spatcher, with help from Midland TAFE, built a unit which included an amazing amount of equipment to provide refreshment to fire fighters. This was run by the Mundaring Auxiliary Red Cross group.

By 1988 active membership very low and average age very high; recruitment efforts stepped up with particular emphasis on attracting younger members.   Major fundraising even planned (Glen Forrest New Year’s Eve Party, which raised about $800 and significantly increased community awareness of the Brigade and it’s work) continued for several years. Also, burn fees increased to more realistic levels.   This ended an era of ‘shoestring’ budgets and scavenging for resources.

November ’88 Brigade first assisted with the Rally Australia.

In October ’89 Brigade purchased an ex WAFB Isuzu medium pumper, which was later converted to a tanker by Midland TAFE metal fabrication apprentices. Unfortunately, the steel used for the tank was too thick and the tank was too heavy for the vehicle. The vehicle was also vandalised and much of the fire fighting equipment was stolen.

The Blitz was probably upgraded again about now as Brigade often had three operational appliances out on hazard reduction work.

Next month Glen Forrest hosted the Radford Shield competition. Then by the end of the year there was discussion on the possibility of a new fire station. In early ’91 there was a meeting with CBFCO for investigation of a new station, including possible sites.

Around now Brigade completed a record 42 hazard reduction burns in one Brigade financial year. Much credit to Len Castlehow who rejoined after a few years absence and being retired was able to organise increase in weekday burns and the Brigade was in sound financial position, for the first time.

Through 1992 fundraising was cranked up in earnest with numerous activities co-ordinated by a committee, workers including Carole Schelfhout, Cosi Gerace, Jenny Oxford, Trish Antoniazzi, Maureen Bradford and Shirley and Les Stratton, for the purpose. Catherine and Clive Dutton put on a magnificent ‘Poms Night’ which raised nearly $1000. There were a number of firewood raffles over several years, delivery of telephone books, Swap Meets, printed commemorative mugs produced by Dom Gerace who also, with others, organised the bottling of port with commemorative labels at Glen Hardey vineyard. There were various social events and Brigade provided the candles and song books for donations at the annual GF Carols by Candlelight for a number of years. Later on, an appeal was made to GF residents in general for contributions of money, materials and labour or expertise assistance for the building. The community responded generously.

1993 saw winter rosters begin. In ’94 Graeme Castlehow and Steve Gray went east to help at the bad NSW fires.  

We participated in the first Volunteer Fire Brigades street appeal in Perth.

1994, the Glen Forrest shopping centre on Railway Parade destroyed by fire. Log cabin style construction, high internal fuel loads and lack of fire partitions between tenancies resulted in building being completely engulfed by fire in less than 20 minutes.

1995, the Jordan report put future of Brigade in doubt. Plans for new fire station put on hold. Brigade had a fight to survive and did so, instead of being decommissioned or amalgamated, due, in part, to the efforts of Kevin Oxford and John Bradford (including a submission prepared by them on behalf of the Glen Forrest community) and concerted action by many other Shire fire fighters.

1996, pagers came into use, we lost the yellow colour for fire units which would be white in future, water bombing started, Brigade participated in the Glen Forrest Fair and also commissioned it’s own Life Membership medals. The first award was to Bob Walker for his remarkable service; then ex FCO Len Castlehow for his service. Others over time so far are Peter Schelfhout, (FCO and primary organiser for the new station construction) and Mike Wilson, both of whom worked on it almost every weekend for twelve months; ex FCO Kevin Oxford for his long service in many various capacities;  David Gresser who was FCO at the time of the ‘Millennium’ fire;  and John and Carrol Spatcher for long service and establishing the demonstration garden of low fire danger plants. To date (2005), the latest award will be to FCO Rod Eyre for long and consistent excellent service.

1997, site work started, on land belonging to the Shire, at the north-east corner of Hardey Road and the railway reserve. Eventually, the Isuzu was sold and a second Fast Attack obtained.

Jenny Oxford was Captain in 1998 as also was Janice Hunt of Chidlow Brigade. We believe these two were the first women in WA to hold senior operational positions in bush fire brigades. Certainly it is historical that two husband and wife teams of FCO and Captain were in office at the same time. Active members ‘invaded’ Whiteman Park for some sand driving practice, organised by Lloyd Redstone.

Brigade was the State finalist in the 1997 National Australia Bank Community Link Awards, Emergency Services and Safety category, for it’s fire station fundraising project. The professional manner in which the fundraising was managed by Peter Schelfhout was a significant factor in achieving the award.

On the 29th November, 1998, after a decade of planning and fundraising and assistance from the Shire with loan and site work, the new Glen Forrest Fire Station was opened, in conjunction with the GF Fair. Nancy and Llew Morgan performed the opening ceremony for us. A sad moment was that Bob Walker just did not manage to stay with us to see it after a half century of membership. The building and facilities work well and we can be proud of the successful effort of so many volunteer workers, including, as well as folk previously mentioned, John Chambers, Steve Forse, Dom Gerace, Tim Bromhead and many other contributors in various ways. The active membership was about forty strong with an encouraging number of young people included. We have rarely, if ever, been unable to respond to a callout. 

15th February, Brigade was involved in the notorious Bellevue hazardous waste plant fire.

In recent years the standard of training has been high due to commitment and the availability of the excellent Mundaring Fire School. The need is for a professional standard of work. There have always been the normal activities of fire prevention and suppression in the Shire of Mundaring and quite frequently further afield, as well. There have been periodic concerns such as insurance and sessions of work to modify the Constitution. Brigades now have more government funding than ever before which makes life much easier in this busy world. ‘Santa Claus’ does a tour of the village on a fire unit just before Christmas each year. Being blessed with many mighty men we won the annual Shire Tug-o-War for several years. There are usually monthly social gatherings to foster family inclusion and friendship. The support from families is vital and much appreciated.

The latest disastrous fire in Glen Forrest was the ‘Millennium’ fire of New Year’s Eve, 1999. All brigades had been on tenterhooks due to the great celebrations expected, including fireworks. It was a day of gale force wind and the celebration fireworks were pre-empted by a tree whipped over power lines in Hardey Valley. The fire was only stopped just short of denser housing in thick bush in Darlington by a burnt off stretch, done two years previously, when the wind eased in late afternoon. Attending were 93 various ground units, water bomber planes and helicopter and 383 personnel.

Which is why we need the Brigade and need it always at good strength and efficiency.

The following is taken from a report made at the time from the Shire’s worst fire so far, the (date?) ‘Pickering Brook’ fire, by the now Deputy CBFCO, Rod Eyre.

Fire is an evil thing, when you are not ready it strikes hard; when you are ready it does not. Fortunately, the guys at CALM did a damn fine job and the high rate of spread, unstoppable fire was stopped by them. They halted it at Manns Gully on the North side of Mundaring Weir by taking advantage of the reduced fire behaviour (0330) and a natural wet area. The fire did not cross Mundaring Weir Road and our plans were only plans; reserves were in place and ready.

Our guys were placed on instant standby from the station. It was a much better assembly area than the side of a road or a concrete car park and it gave us some diversity around the brigades if another fire was lit or if severe spotting occurred and sprayed fire everywhere.   It also gave the crews some comfort while they waited.

Communication and information was a problem; CALM had to abandon their Mundaring Weir offices and relocate to Midland Police complex.   This made their comms plans fall into big holes; the helicopters were somewhat ineffective as observers due to the smoke. The much-heralded FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) fire shape tool had software problems and the 0700 image took six hours to reach the IMT, so much for the IT age. So fire shape and location was a big guess which caused lots of problems.   Including FESA issuing community information, which was on the conservative side, basically information was very lean. Including to our crews but it was much better to hold them in instant response than to relax and be possibly caught napping. The penalty was bored fire fighters; the possible alternative is beyond thought. It has been said to me “We needed to know more” but then you were at an incident and that is what the radio is for, to ask the ICV for an update.

Even as I write we have some of our people manning CALM tankers because the CALM crews are in need of a break. There are lessons to be learnt, communications and command structures to be followed, and plans to be made. What will we do next time? Perhaps the plan could be improved; it well be very carefully analysed, just in case.

There will be a next time; I don’t trust wildfires and I don’t trust arsonists. To the people who were part of this, thanks.

Compiled by Carrol Spatcher (daughter of Boog Summers) and Kevin Oxford.

(To be continued)