This thesis examines the development of firefighting in NSW from its establishment as an organised activity in the 1850s to the mid 1950s, when the origins of the contemporary arrangements of firefighting first emerged. In particular, it focuses on the dynamics at play in the relationship between different ‘forms’ of labour in the industry over that period, namely, paid, quasi-volunteer and volunteer firefighters.
Whilst independent volunteer fire companies, largely based in Sydney started off strongly in NSW in the mid nineteenth century, by 1910 they had disappeared from urban firefighting. Following the lead of the Fire Brigades Board (Sydney) [1884-1909], the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW [1910-] adopted a more British approach to firefighting with unified command and control, with rigid structures and discipline applied across the State. Eventually, its large jurisdiction and financial constraints led to its inability to cope with post WWII urban expansion. This opened the way for volunteers to re-emerge in urban firefighting in the form of bush fire brigades.
Throughout the period studied, there were a myriad of tensions and, at times, sharp conflict between the different forms of firefighters. This manifested itself both on the fireground and in the relationship that the various groups had with their respective ‘managements’. Paid, quasi-volunteer and volunteer brigades used a range of strategies to legitimate their positions as the ‘protectors’ of their communities. Localism was a crucial factor in this context, as tension between centralised and local control was often the root of their differences. The importance of community and localism cannot be overstated, given the spatially embedded nature of firefighting.