Toolangi Fire Brigade
Toolangi Fire Brigade is one of the 1,217 brigades that make up the Country Fire Authority (CFA), which was established after the disastrous 1939 Black Friday fires, when Charlie Demby, forestry officer and a member of one Toolangi’s pioneering families, died trying to rescue John Barling, a fellow forestry officer. Due to World War Two (1939-1945) and the absence of young men, the brigade wasn’t formally formed until 1953 with Alex Demby, Charlie’s son, as Captain. Early years saw brigade members using knapsacks, rakes, beaters and scrub slashers as the only means to fight fires. It wasn’t until 1968 that the brigade received a second-hand Willys Jeep for use in fighting fires. This vehicle, which came from Strath Creek Brigade, was fitted with a 1,000-litre water tank along with a pump and hoses. These vehicles were designed as a highly manoeuvrable firefighting unit, making it extremely suitable for the terrain around Toolangi.
In the early years of the brigade, members had to be transported to incidents in private cars after being alerted by the Captain, or other brigade officers. The brigade was assisted by the Forest Commission, and in turn, would assist the commission where necessary. When the brigade was first formed, there were 23 members registered, but due to lack of turnouts (less than 10 a year), the membership diminished to the point where the brigade was facing de-registration. As most of the brigade members were farmers or in the timber industry, it was difficult to get together for turnouts, meetings and training. A low point for the brigade was in April 1957 when one of the members (Max McDonnell) was killed in a motor vehicle accident after attending a fire in Castella.
As the brigade didn’t have a station for the brigade vehicle to be kept in, it was initially garaged at Captain Alex Demby’s sawmill and then later in a shed at Captain Bruce McClements’ home. Not having a station made it difficult to hold meetings, or attend training, so there was very little training conducted. The brigade needed members who were familiar with all aspects of firefighting, including being able to drive the brigade vehicle, and being accustomed to the pump and the radio, so training was necessary.
In 1974 the first fire station was built for the brigade, which gave the Willys vehicle a permanent home. However, the building had a sloping gravel floor and was poorly secured. Fortunately, around this time, the brigade became significantly more active. This allowed it to commence a range of improvements, one of the first of which was installation of a proper concrete floor in the station. Shortly after this, the CFA installed a FRS (Fire Reporting System) call system and the siren was also moved from the tennis court fence over to the fire station itself. Local fundraising in this period, especially from the annual balls in the hall, raised valuable funds, which enabled the purchase of better equipment including a foam branch, Heathkit siren, VHF radios, listening sets and walkie talkies. The brigade also purchased a small ute to carry equipment, along with a trailer, on which was mounted a quick fill pump and a lighting plant with generator. In 1978 the brigade requested approval of an addition to the fire station. The extension needed to be big enough to house a meeting room and communications gear, amongst other items. By this stage the brigade was being served by a 2WD Austin STU (Small Town Unit) and subsequently an International 4WD was provided by the CFA.
In 1987 the brigade was informed that it was in line to receive a new Hino 4WD tanker. With this announcement the brigade realised the new tanker was going to be too high to fit into the station. In order to fix this dilemma, the brigade raised the front section of the station by 250mm. By the time the tanker arrived, the roof and door had been altered to suit the height of the tanker. In 1993 a further section of the main fire station was sectioned off to provide a self-contained radio and communications room.
In the year 2000, a brand new, two-bay fire station was constructed on the original site; this building is now the Toolangi Men’s Shed. The honour of opening the building went to brigade Life Member and Foundation Member, Bob Pockett.
The brigade later opened a third new station in 2013 situated within the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP) grounds, in the centre of Toolangi. This station has an engine bay for all three brigade vehicles. The vehicles have been upgraded on a regular basis ever since, including with a brigade-owned 4WD tanker and also a brigade-owned 4WD support/forward control vehicle. The station is very well equipped, with a large meeting/training room, kitchen, storeroom, communications room and a Breathing Apparatus (BA) room. The building is over twice the size of the previous station and will meet the brigade’s requirements into the foreseeable future. The brigade was able to accomplish this by active fundraising in the previous ten years, and sincerely thanks the individuals and businesses who donated during this time.
The Toolangi Fire Brigade serves the local communities of Toolangi and Castella, including a large portion of the Toolangi State Forest, and assists in Strike Teams both local, long distance, and interstate. The brigade also undertakes controlled burns and attends to wildfires, structural fires, motor vehicle accidents, and many more incidents. Toolangi Fire Brigade is a member of the Yea Group of fire brigades in CFA’s District 12, also has an active Junior Brigade and warmly welcomes new members, providing training and a supportive community atmosphere. Contact details are available on the brigade website http://www.toolangicfa.org.au, www.facebook.com/toolangifirebrigade or ring (03) 5962 9355.
Pockett, R. (2005) Raking the Trail: A History of the Toolangi Fire Brigade
Pockett, D, (2021) Information provided to Toolangi/Castella History Project
Toolangi Fire Brigade (2021) retrieved at http://www.toolangicfa.org.au