The pager system has been a positive asset to the organisation and, its reliability having been proved, the Brigade alarms in Knox were modified late in 1980, the result being that station sirens no longer operate at night.
A series of deliberately lit fires occurred in and around the National Park in the early weeks of 1980, and in the difficult higher country along the Group’s perimeter. These outbreaks invariably occurred on nights of high winds, and while some of the fires developed to potentially disastrous proportions they were stopped by a co-ordinated effort, prompt support and sheer hard work. In February 1980, the township of Upper Ferntree Gully, which had formed part of the Brigade’s area of responsibility since 1942, was excised from the urban fire district and reverted in classification to rural area.
The acquisition of two additional breathing apparatus sets in 1980, together with a general expansion in the variety of specialised equipment used in fire-fighting operations, prompted the Brigade to seek a suitable vehicle in which it could be carried. In June 1980 the decision was made to purchase a Daihatsu twin cab diesel cab and chassis, with bodywork to be constructed to the Brigade’s specifications.
This new equipment van was delivered in December 1980, and some weeks were devoted to fitting out its lockers for the stowage of gear. The vehicle carried breathing apparatus, basic fire-fighting equipment, salvage gear, generators and a lighting plant. It doubled as a personnel transport and was equipped to provide firefighters with refreshments during prolonged operations.
Radio communications were improved late in 1980 with the transfer of Knox Group traffic from the regional frequency to an exclusive frequency, thereby eliminating the jamming which occurred on the common channel when separate networks were engaged simultaneously in major operations. The Group Headquarters was further extended to incorporate the station’s alarm lobby with the object of creating sufficient room to segregate the radio operation positions and to create multi-channel operations.
Early in 1982 Brigade members were despatched, as relief crews manning Knox Group vehicles, to a major outbreak to the north of Strath Creek. While the Brigade had generally confined its operations to its own fire district, or the immediate hills area, this operation had followed the deployment late in 1980 of Brigade members with support forces sent to bushfires menacing the border regions of East Gippsland. These incidents were to foreshadow a series of major fires during the decade that followed, beginning with our return to the Strath Creek district early the following year.
The eighties also saw the expansion of standardised training for fire fighters, both within and between individual brigades. In addition, courses were offered at the Fiskville Training Wing on specialised equipment and on special risks, as well as practical instruction on general methods of fire attack. As Deputy Group Officer, Frank Stephenson had been instrumental in organising night training sessions at Fiskville for new recruits in the Knox brigades.
Lack of rain during the winter and spring of 1982 produced severe drought conditions throughout a large area of southeastern Australia, and from early summer, bushfires were causing problems in various parts of Victoria.
On 16th February 1983, amid soaring temperatures and gale force winds, a series of calamitous fires broke out across Victoria and in other states. These fires exacted a heavy toll in human lives and caused widespread damage. Combined, they constituted the greatest civil disaster to be experienced by the country. They came to be known by the day on which they occurred: Ash Wednesday.
On Melbourne’s eastern fringes major fires occurred in the South Belgrave -Beaconsfield area, in the Cockatoo district, and in a swathe from Noojee through Warburton to the forests above Reefton. The Brigade was committed to the South Belgrave fire practically from the outset, and was engaged in that area for almost two days. This operation was to be immediately followed by a longer period of duty as part of a Knox Group support force working in the Reefton and Big Pats Creek areas to the east of Warburton.
The Fire Service, and the community at large, mourned the loss of the members of two fire brigade crews who were numbered among those who perished in these particular fires. A former member of the Brigade was killed that same day while fighting a bushfire on the outskirts of Adelaide.
At this time, the Authority advanced the scheduled replacement of the tanker, which had been in service at Ferntree Gully for more than fourteen years. The replacement, an International ACCO 610A truck, with four-wheel drive and a 3000-litre payload, has proved to be a positive asset to the Brigade and the district.
The issue, to Brigades on the metropolitan fringe, of instantaneous hose coupling adaptors in August 1983 saw the beginnings of a long-term programme aimed at increasing effectiveness by standardising equipment in the different fire services.
The Brigade’s equipment and resources were further improved during this period with the installation of a pumping pit in the station driveway, and the purchase of a smoke extractor for ventilating burning buildings.
The Holden station wagon was replaced by a Ford Falcon, thus closing an era of highway touring. In addition, an electric winch was installed on the hose tower to replace the “Armstrong” manual winch.
Early in 1985 the Brigade’s tanker and crew were involved with local support forces in fire fighting operations in the state’s northeastern districts, and in the border region of New South Wales. Relief crews were flown in by Hercules transports operating from Lilydale airfield.
In June 1986, Frank Stephenson resigned from office after a record term of 15 years as Captain. Having been the moving spirit in every aspect of Brigade activity during a particularly demanding decade and a half, Frank continued to serve in an executive capacity as Deputy Group Officer, Knox. Terry Potter who had served as Secretary, Foreman and Lieutenant succeeded Frank in office.
A testimonial evening arranged to honour the service given by Frank and Barbara Stephenson to the community through the Brigade was attended by a large and representative gathering of their friends and colleagues who had travelled considerable distances to be present for the occasion.
Two successful functions were organised by the Ferntree Gully Lions Club to raise funds for the urban and rural brigades in the Gully, and with the proceeds the Brigade was able to purchase portable radios. The Lions Club had often demonstrated its generosity in the past, notib1y with the presentation of a portable generator in 1981, and the Brigade has been most appreciative of the Club’s efforts.
Significant urban fires in Ferntree Gully in 1987 included the spare parts division of an auto dealership, and a major furnishing store.
In late 1987 the Authority replaced the International pumper, with a Hino “Type 2” pumper, a twin-cab appliance equipped with a 3000 lpm rear mounted pump, auxiliary pump and a number of innovative features, not least of which was the provision of safer accommodation for the crew who would no longer be required to travel in the open.
A major building fire in January 1989 involved the premises of a local educational toy manufacturer’s premises, which were severely damaged.
Having agreed that the Daihatsu equipment van could no longer carry the increasing quantity of specialised equipment required in fire fighting operations, the Brigade resolved to examine options for its replacement with a larger unit.
Terry Potter resigned as Captain in May 1989, and was succeeded by Bob O’Toole whose service with the Brigade included terms as Apparatus Officer, Foreman and Lieutenant.
A decision to proceed with the purchase and construction of a new equipment van resulted in the selection of a long-wheelbase Ford Trader twin-cab vehicle, the bodywork of, which was to be constructed in fibreglass. The new vehicle was delivered in May 1990, and was placed in service after fitting out by Brigade members.
After a record term of twenty-five years, Barry Heaton concluded his service as Resident Officer in June 1990. Barry had served the Brigade faithfully throughout those years, and he finished as the sole surviving Resident Officer in the district.
The early months of 1991 saw the Brigade active again in distant bushfire operations, this time involving outbreaks in the Seymour-Yea area and, later, in Warburton township.
The Authority improved crew safety on the tanker early in 1991 with the installation of rollover protection on the vehicle.
May 1991 saw the Brigade committed to the largest single building fire to have occurred in the district with an outbreak that almost totally involved the “Swagman” restaurant on Burwood Highway. This early morning fire was not detected and reported until it had vented. The fire-fighting operation, which entailed extensive support from within both Regions 13 and 26, combined with assistance from other essential services, was rated as a most effective, co-ordinated and concentrated attack.
Later that year, having witnessed the superiority of positive pressure ventilation systems in terms of access and crew safety in major structure fires, the Brigade decided to purchase two units. The two “blowers”, each self-contained with its own power unit, were delivered in November and were placed in service after sufficient members were accredited as operators following specialised training.
Laraine Williams tendered her resignation from office after a term of fifteen years as President of the Ladies’ Committee, in February 1992.
During her service, which dates from 1977, Laraine with the help of her colleagues, gave invaluable support and assistance to the Brigade during what had proved to be some very trying and demanding times. Marion Popa who had extensive service as Secretary of the Committee succeeded Laraine as President.
In March 1992 Bob O’Toole tendered his resignation as Captain, and was succeeded in April by Robert (“Toddy”) Small. Toddy had transferred to Ferntree Gully after lengthy service at Bayswater. He had held office as Foreman and Lieutenant, in addition was a Deputy Group Officer with the Knox Fire Brigades Group.