The history of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade revealed
– the goal and idea was simple: to establish a permanent fire-fighting organisation that would be able to respond to any call in the Queenstown Community. Turn the clock on 150 years, and history will record that, through the foresight of a committed group in those early days, the establishment of a fire-fighting service was eventuality to become a reality. Courtesy of this group’s vision and determination and the overcoming of rather slow progress and initial frustrations, the Queenstown Fire Brigade was formed and the beginning of a success story which today spans a century and a half of commitment and progress. Fire fighting in Queenstown in its early days was undertaken by the Queenstown Fire Party. Set up in 1861 this group responded to fires in a town which at this time, was rapidly growing and comprised of buildings which tended to be ‘fire prone’ while the use of candles, open fires and kerosene enhanced the dangers of the living environment of these people and the town.
– the first formal meeting of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade was held, and in June of that year, the first of four officers for this group were elected at a general meeting. From this point, the next important stage in the development of the Brigade was to purchase equipment. Top of the list was a fire engine and, courtesy of an advertisement in the Otago Daily Times on August 22, 1864, Queenstown became the proud owner of its first appliance, a hand-drawn hose reel, on November 19, 1864 and was later replaced by a larger handdrawn pumper. No longer in service, this pump can still be seen on display at the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery museum. 1866 and the first ‘home’ for the Brigade was sourced. Located on the corner of Brecon and Shotover Streets, and erected at a cost of eight pounds ten shillings, this site was to be the base for the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade for over 100 years until the new and current fire station was opened in April 1974 on Isle Street. Incidentally the previous site is now known as the Brian Smith Memorial Park in honour of this fire fighter who was a member of the brigade for many years. 1929, and another milestone was achieved by the Brigade when it received its first motorised appliance. This was the Renault, which can be seen on display in the Wanaka Transport Museum and is one of only two of its kind in the world: the other is housed in the National Motor Museum in the UK. As Queenstown grew and expanded, thus came the need for a substation to possibly be located at Frankton. From the initial meeting held in March 1973 to gauge support, it wasn’t until May 1979 that the fire station located in Frankton’s Douglas Street was officially opened, and the members began to respond to what was a gradually increasing number of callouts. Since those very early days, many personalities, fire engines, fires and tragedies have shaped the history of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade, enabling the organisation of today to achieve the milestone of being the second oldest fire brigade in New Zealand to be manned by volunteers. The Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade has overcome many challenges through these years, including a lack of a formal brigade through the years of 1873 to 1879 and a spell where it went into recess from November 1909 to April 1917, but from 1900 to 2013, it proudly records over 300 names as past members in addition to the 40 members who currently make up the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade and the 20 who today form the Frankton Volunteer Fire Brigade. The 150 year celebrations will be an opportunity to salute those members, both past and present, who are recorded as being part of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Book published on history
Acomprehensive history which profiles the contribution the Queenstown Fire Brigade has made to the history of Queenstown has been written and published to coincide with the 150 year celebrations. The brainchild of QVFB secretary Katherine Lamont and written by Jenny McLeod, ‘Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade – celebrating 150 Years of Voluntary Service 1863 – 2013’ tells of the many fires and incidents which not only reflect the history of the brigade, but also highlights the history of the town and which have, over time, contributed to its growth and development. From an arson by a local greengrocer seeking insurance which destroyed an entire block of buildings in Ballarat St back in 1882, through to the ‘Fat Badger’s’ fire, which also destroyed the World Bar in 2013, and the milestone of the brigade’s first female fire fighter, Vicki Paddon who joined the Brigade in 1989, the fires, events and milestones of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade are numerous and varied. In the midst there are tales of cat rescues and fires, rivalries and competitions, awards and friendships, appliances and equipment which together form the basis of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade. This is the history of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade and also of Queenstown itself: insightful and enjoyable reading and an insight into the importance of a committed fire-fighting service.