Arcadia Fire Brigade History 1995 – 2003

On March 19th 1995 the Arcadia Fire Brigade celebrated its 60th anniversary, this event which honored past and present members of the brigade was held at the fire station at Arcadia. There were approximately 150 people who attended on the day, many were ex-residents of the district who came to renew old acquaintances.

Ian & Jack Clarke
Bernard Kennedy, Murchison Group Officer Bruce Brisbane,
Norma Leslie & Gerald Quirk
The official unveiling of the plaque was performed by Region 22 Regional Officer Alan Davies.

There was a display of memorabilia including old knapsacks and fire beaters, also in the fire station photos and documents relating to the history of the brigade were displayed.

Maurice Doyle and John McManus reminiscing about bush fires they fought with beaters and knapsacks.

During the afternoon members of the brigade demonstrated the type of resources that were available to combat fires in the past and also demonstrated the capabilities of our Hino tanker.

The old way

Since that time when we celebrated 60 years of service to the community the brigade has continued its role in fire prevention, containment and suppression. We have had no major fires in the Arcadia area during this time, but other small outbreaks have occurred, some of which required the assistance of neighboring brigades to control and extinguish.

We also returned the favor by assisting other brigades in their time of need. The Arcadia tanker crewed by a local brigade members and Moorilim members also form part of the Murchison Group’s Strike Team to areas with in and outside the region.

With the Goulburn Valley Highway running through our area, we have also attended motor vehicle accidents and car/truck fires.
The following is an account of some of the various incidents and fires that the brigade has attended over this period.

July 5th 1995. Brigade called to boat fire, I believe this is the first time we have been called to an incident of this nature, the boat was in no danger of sinking as it was high and dry being under construction, cause of fire spark from a welder.

July 24th 1995, 2210 hrs . Brigade turns out to reported truck accident 8 to 20 kilometers South of Shepparton was the location given, the incident which did involve a truck, however it had only run out of fuel and was blocking part of the Highway, I believe the driver was not impressed when two fire tankers, two police vehicles and brigade mobile vehicles turned up at his location, especially as the police were taking a close look at his log book !

August 30th 1995. Following discussions within the community to build a community centre a meeting was held with City of Greater Shepparton representatives and Alan Davies Regional Officer for Region 22 to draw up plans for the new building and refurbishment of the fire station.

The fire danger period of 1995/96 was relatively quiet with out any major fires in the area. However it turned out quite differently for the 1996/97 year. A major motor vehicle accident involving the family of one of our members had a major impact on the community.

In November 1996 new radios with better capabilities were fitted to all CFA vehicles.
January 1997 brought some extreme weather conditions, which resulted in at least seven T.F.B.’S (total fire ban days) being declared, on the 21st of January the Murchison group provided a strike team which included the Arcadia tanker to a fire at Heathcote, this fire had the potential to become a major fire but was soon brought under control. Shortly after the strike team returned to Murchison the Group was again requested to provide a strike team to go to the Dandenong’s where a fire had ravaged a large area in the Upper Ferntree Gully National Park.

The strike team consisted of tankers from Arcadia, Moorilim, Murchison, Wirate and also the Murchison command vehicle, manned by twenty fire fighters. The strike team arrived at the Lilydale Fire Station at approximately 1930 hrs, we were sent to Upwey Fire Station and from there were deployed to the Mt Dandenong Tourist Road where the fire had already swept through. Our task was to make the area secure by blacking out and extinguishing any burning trees etc. Breakfast at Belgrade and we were then transported by bus back home to Murchison, other crews from Region 22 manned out tankers until they were released later in the day.

Some statistics from the Dandenong fires: There were three main fires, at Ferny Creek, Upwey and Kalorama. Three people died in the Ferny Creek fire. More than forty houses were destroyed. 223 CFA fire Tankers and 1000 fire fighters were at the Dandenong fires. 21 units including fire tankers and command vehicles from Region 22 manned by 100 fire fighters. 12 helicopters and 2 Canadian water bombers known as Super-Scoopers were used at the fires.

During February and March of this year work commenced on the community centre building which joined onto the back of the existing fire station.

During the latter part of 1997 we saw conditions in the grass and forest areas drying out very quickly, fire restrictions were introduced on 17th November 1997 approximately one month earlier than usual and on 26th November we saw the first TFB for the North West and North East of the State.

On 12th January 1998 the Hino tanker that we had for a number of years was replaced with a new Hino tanker which had a capability of using A Class foam as an aid to fire suppression.

The Member for Shepparton Mr Don Kilgour MLA handing over the keys of the new tanker to Arcadia Fire Brigade Captain Gavin Doyle, Regional Officer John Haynes looks on.
Demonstration of laying a foam blanket as an aid to fire suppression

On January 14th the new tanker was put through its paces when we formed part of a strike team that went to a 600 Ha fire at Wondong, Murchison group sent three tankers and Waranga group provided two tankers and the command vehicle. Rather than depleting the local areas of fire tankers the new policy saw the Murchison Group combining with Waranga Group to form strike teams.

Then on the 25th February we were again part of a strike team that went to Macedon where a fire had burnt into pine plantations. It was at these two fires where we first saw the Ericison Sky Crane in operation, I am not sure whether it was the celebrated “Elvis” or not?

Facelift for the Fire Station.

Following the construction of the Community Centre in 1997 the fire station was re-clad with colorbond material, the area surrounding the new complex was landscaped at this time. Volunteers carried out the work , the materials being supplied by the CFA.

The Community Centre was officially opened by the Mayor of The City of Greater Shepparton Cr Chris Hazleman on April 19th 1998.

Brigade members re-cladding the fire station
Land scaping the area

The beginning of the 1998/99 fire danger period; on Nov.11th at 0640 hrs following heavy rain overnight the brigades of Arcadia and Moorilim attended a truck accident on the Goulburn Valley Hwy at the Castle Creek Bridge which was being remodeled and widened at the time, traffic across the Bridge was open to one lane only and was controlled by traffic lights at each end.

The driver of the semi trailer lost control of the vehicle, which overturned into the creek, part of the load remained on the bridge, and the remainder went into the creek. This turned out to be a major incident as drums of agricultural chemicals went into the creek, some of which were ruptured in the accident. The EPA, Goulburn Murray Water, Vic Roads, fire brigades including the Hazmat unit, Police, and salvage authorities were involved in cleanup.The Highway at this point didn’t open for traffic until 2000 hours that night.

Overturned truck.
Group Officer Bruce Brisbane overseeing the removal of hazardous material from the Castle Creek bridge.
Chemical drums being retrieved from the creek.

Then on 3rd of December 1998 the Linton tragedy occurred and all that encompassed with the loss of life and the inquiries that followed.
December 12th of this year saw the first TFB for the North East area of the State, on Christmas night there were storms in the area which brought lightning strikes, this started a fire in the Molka area to which 18 tankers were turned out to attend, including six tankers from the Murchison group.

Once the tankers arrived on the scene the fire was soon brought under control, however it did burn approximately 200 acres. With the celebration of Christmas this is not the type of event that is expected or welcomed on Christmas night.

In the early part of 1999 several fires occurred along the railway line at Arcadia, north and south of the Township, also near the Toolamba Railway Bridge and also at Wahring, these fires were soon brought under control. There were very few TFB’s over this summer period.

March 1st 2000 Arcadia Brigade has a crew helping to black out a fire that occurred on Wheelers Hill in the Creightons Creek area
Fireman Ray McManus working on a hot spot

Start of the new millennium

The early part of the year 2000 brought several TFB’s in January and February, the brigade attended an MVA on the Highway near Doyle’s Rd on Jan 7th, we also attended several small grass fires in Arcadia and neighboring brigade areas over this period; a car deliberately set on fire in the Castle Creek which the brigade attended at 0230 hours on 23rd April was the last fire incident for period.

Following the CFA investigation into the Linton fire, the CFA was requesting that brigade members show they have the necessary skills in operating the tankers and the knowledge to ensure their own safety and the safety of their fellow firefighters. This was being carried out through the Minimum’s Skills Accreditation program, which formed the bases of further advancement in the area of fire fighting expertise.

All volunteer members of the CFA did not receive this program with enthusiasm, particularly the older generation who felt the years of experience gave them necessary skill levels and they didn’t want to go through the process.

Single vehicle accident Goulburn Valley Hwy Jan 7th 2000

During the second half of the year, the brigade attended two MVA’s, one being a truck/car collision at the Murchison Violet Town Road/Goulburn Valley Hwy intersection; another stolen vehicle fire; a house fire at Toolamba and a grass fire.

A fatal accident that occurred on the G.V. Hwy involving a station wagon and a milk tanker

There were five TFB’s during January of 2001, which was shaping up as a busy period for firefighters. There were no fires in our brigade area but we assisted at fires at Kialla and Karramomus. We also attended two fatal truck/car accidents, one in our area and one in the Murchison/Tatura brigade area. We had a fire call at 0030 hrs to a truck fire on the Highway, Moorilim also assisted when wheel bearings on the rear axle overheated and caused a fire at the rear of the trailer, extensive damage to the rear section and a load of warm bananas.

Towards the end of 2001 there were fires at Reedy Lake near Bailieston and at Castle Drive Arcadia where four tankers were required to control a fire on the edge of the creek.

During the last few days of this year the CFA was requested to send tankers and crews to fires in New South Wales, this assistance came from the south of the State where the fire danger was low at this time.

As the new year dawned the fire situation around Sydney became worse and a strike team was requested from Region 22, five tankers from this region were driven to Sydney overnight, the crews were transported up there by aircraft, approximately 1000 CFA personnel were involved in assisting with these fires in New South Wales. The task force consisting of five strike team’s from northern Victoria returned to their home bases on January 4th. Murchison group provided one crew of five men for the region 22 Strike Team, Richard Walker from Arcadia was a member of that crew.

This year also heralded in the worst drought on record, the availability of water for fire fighting purposes was virtually non-existent in many dry land areas, contingency plans were made regarding transport of water if the need arose, however in many areas there was little grass to burn. There were three TFB days during January and even as late as March 18th there was a TFB over most of the State, 37 degrees Celsius and a North wind. During the afternoon the Arcadia tanker and a crew were put on standby at the Rushworth fire station, a strike team from the Waranga Group had gone to assist at a large fire at Tooborac.

Even during May and early June brigades in various areas were being called to nuisance type fires mainly caused by burn off operations, this was indicative of the very dry conditions prevailing this year.

The 18th October saw a TFB in NorthWest area of the State, probably the earliest a TFB had ever been declared in a part of Victoria. This was followed by a TFB in the North-West and North East areas on the 2nd November two days prior to fire restrictions being introduced in Region 22.

On 8th November the brigade was called to a MVA just south of Arcadia where three young local people received minor injuries when a car they were travelling in overturned. At this time there were reported to be 80 to 90 fires burning in New South Wales, CFA tankers from the south were being sent out to assist the New South Wales firefighters, even though there was little grass to burn the fires were reported to be travelling quickly.

November 11th Murchison group was requested to provide a strike team of 3 tankers from Arcadia, Nagambie, Murchison, and the command vehicle to assist Longwood at a fire in the hills in the area of Oak Valley Road.

During December the fires continued to rage and destroyed property in New South Wales while in Victoria we had some very hot weather, with seven TFB’s declared over this period.

Ironically after such a dry period there were some big rains in Victoria on the last day of the year, approximately 35 mm of rain in the Arcadia area.

2003 and The North East Fires.

The rain that fell on the last day of the year 2002 reduced the fire danger for a few days, but by January 7th of the new year the temperature was back to 39 degrees celsius with a TFB. declared for that day, in fact there would be 10 TFB days for the month of January.

By January 9th there were some big going fires in the North East and Gippsland areas of the State, lightning strikes were the main cause of these fires.

On January 12th Murchison group provided a strike team tanker crew to go to Corryong to battle a fire up there, Richard Walker from Arcadia was a member of that crew, this was the first of our involvement at the fires in the North East. The next day saw the devastating fire storm that hit Canberra taking life and property before it.

Bernard Kennedy and Murchison Strike Team Leader Bruce Brisbane enjoying an early morning coffee at Yackandandah Jan 22 2003
Some members of the Murchison Strike Team enjoying brecky at Yackandandah
The unknown fireman about to take the big dive!

The fire situation in the North East became more serious on 21st January with big outbreaks at Eldorado and Yackadandah, 6 strike teams each consisting of five tankers and command vehicles were dispatched that afternoon from region 22 to rendezvous at Wangaratta, from there Numurkah and Murchison Group tankers were deployed to Yackadandah where they worked all night in the area around the town.

The Arcadia tanker was crewed by Bernard Kennedy, John Kennedy, Richard Walker and Barry Crimmins. Next morning the staging area was at Beechworth where crews were changed over, Shane Young, Ray McManus, and three firefighters from the Moorilim brigade manned the Arcadia tanker.

Dartmouth was one of the staging areas during the North East fires
Members of a Region 22 Strike Team helping a local farmer clear fallen timber off his fenceline and access track
Clearing access track
DS+E personnel preparing a rakehoe firebreak down the side of a hill at Mitta Mitta
Strike Team Leader Peter Bell giving instructions to an ever watchful Fire Captain!

Smoke from the North East fires extended across the Goulburn Valley on many days while the fires were burning up there, at times the visibility being down to 2 km and less. By the 24th January it was estimated that 500,000 Ha had been burnt in the North East.

A very hot day on the 25th, 42 degrees celsius with a North wind making it a bad day, some tankers including the Arcadia unit from Region 22 returned to their home bases, the Region retained three strike teams of 17 vehicles in the fire areas which were crewed by personnel from this region, crews remained up there for a two-day period.

Visibility reduced by the smoke from the North East fires, mid-afternoon in January 2003.

At 0340 on January 28th the brigade received a call to a reported excavator on fire, the Moorilim brigade was also turned out to assist. The information regarding the exact location of the fire was vague, but was soon located at the bridge over the main Eastern Channel on the Kialla Central Road, the bridge was being widened and the contractor had several machines on the site, the excavator had been vandalized and then set alight.

There was extensive use of fire fighting aircraft used at the North East fires and as smoke often closed down aerodromes in that area, several of these aircraft used the Shepparton aerodrome as their base, the Ericsson Sky-Crane “Elvis” was the object of much interest while it remained at Shepparton.

Elvis at rest at the Shepparton aerodrome

On the evening of February 12th, the Arcadia tanker relieved the Moorilim tanker at a serious accident on the Highway at Moorilim; this accident involved three motor vehicles and took the lives of four people.

Following some useful rain the fires in the North East and Gippsland were officially declared as contained early in March. The last TFBs. for this summer period were on March 18th and 19th.

Statistics of the North East and Gippsland Fires.
CFA involvement. 71 days involvement
Total size of fires in the North East and Gippsland 1,128,555Ha.
CFA Personnel over 5,736.
CFA Appliances 328
Strike Teams /Task Forces 55
Slip-ons 13
Pumpers 5
MCV,s 7
Quick Fills 4
Forward Control Vehicles 53
Fire Fighters 5360
IMT Personnel 233
Brigades involved 579
Agencies involved in the North East and Gippsland Fires.
CFA 5736 people.
DSE, DPI, Parks Vic. 3,350 people
MFESB. 18 people.
NSW RFS 130 people
SA. CFS. 584 people.
Dept of Defence. 234 people
Qld. Fire and Rescue 68 people
Tasmanian Fire Service 31 people.
USA 35 people.
N.Z 62 people.
Support Agencies 34

Reported losses from the fires: Houses 41, Other Structures 213, Bridges 3, Cattle and Sheep 9,111, Trout 50,000, Other 172.
Involvement of Region 22: Shepparton Based. 518 Volunteers and 36 Regional staff were involved with the fires in the North East.
Commitment from Murchison Group.

Volunteers from all brigades in the Murchison Group went on tours of duty in the North East area, some went up several times to various locations. At least 37 volunteers gave of their time to assist in the firefight up there.

The following list of Murchison Group Brigades shows the number of volunteers from each Brigade who were involved in the North East fires. Wahring 1; Wirate 3; Bailieston 4; Moorilim 5; Nagambie 7; Arcadia 8; Murchison 9.

From the Arcadia Brigade Richard Walker and Alan Spence each completed 5 tours of duty. Other members who also assisted up there were Ray McManus, Shane Young, Bernard Kennedy, Barry Crimmins and John Kennedy.

Major structure fire.

The last major fire in the Murchison Group area was the Murchison Bakery fire which occurred on May 6th shortly after 11pm, as it was feared that all the buildings along the main street were in danger of becoming involved in the fire.

15 fire appliances including tankers and pumpers were brought from neighboring brigades to assist Murchison, the bakery shop was destroyed and part of the supermarket was damaged in the fire, but excellent work by the fire brigade crews contained the fire to these two buildings.

The following is a list of Brigade Officers, continuing on from the list of those who were named in the 1935-1995 history of the brigade.
Brigade Captains: Gerald Quirk 1992-1996, Gavin Doyle 1996-2002, Richard Walker 2002.
2nd Lieut: Gavin Doyle 1992-1996, Gerald Quirk 1996-1998, Richard Walker 1998-2002, Gavin Doyle 2002-
Comms Officer: Frances Kennedy 1994-
1st Lieut: Brian Attwood 1992-1996, Bernard Kennedy 1996-
3rd Lieut: Bernard Kennedy 1992-1996, Chris Ferguson 1996-1998, Ray McManus 1998-
Secretary: Lawrence Noonan 1989-