Prior to 1900, group firefighting was fragmented and was often a case of
every man or woman for themselves.
In 1896, serious fires in NSW and
Victoria were the catalyst for brigade formation. Berrigan in NSW claimed the
honour of being the first brigade in Australia. The first official mention of
the Berrigan Brigade is November 1900.
In 1906, a Local Government Act
authorised local government councils to form bushfire brigades throughout the
state, however until World War II, little progress was made. During World War
II, Federal Government wartime security regulations required that the pace of
the war effort be maintained. They imposed bush or rural fire prevention orders
and set up a special Bush Fires (Emergency) Committee.
After World War II, this Committee formed
the basis of the post-war Bush Fire Committee from 1945 onwards, which developed
the legislation that became the Bush Fires Act in 1949. One of the most
important provisions was, for the first time, a Bush Fire Fighting Fund from
which local governments could purchase equipment for their brigades. The fund
continues today with State and Local Governments and the insurance industry
In 1958, the first Fire Prevention
Association was established, which was concerned with developing firebreak
systems and other means of preventing fires on vacant Crown land. In 1970,
amendments to the Bush Fires Act took into account problems arising from so many
statutory and voluntary organisations involved in firefighting. The Bush Fire
Committee was reformed into the Bush Fire Council with representatives from all
organisations involved (it originally had 25 representatives, which later
increased to 27, and finally comprised to 16).
In 1990, the Department of Bush Fire Services was set
up to administer the NSW Minister for Emergency Services' responsibilities under
the Bush Fires Act. NSW Bush Fire Brigades changed to the NSW Bush Fire Service.
During December 1993 to January 1994, the most
protracted and largest firefighting effort in Australian history with 20,000
firefighters deployed at over 800 fires throughout NSW.
Following a lengthy Coronial Inquiry into the fires of
1993-1994, the NSW State Government introduced legislation in September 1997,
creating for the first time a single rural fire service with a single chain of
command. The Rural Fires Act, 1997 was proclaimed in September.
Today, over 70,000 volunteer firefighters are formed
into about 2,100 brigades in 143 rural fire districts. They fight fires in over
95 per cent of the State and are responsible for property protection in
about 1,200 towns and villages.