The following has been extracted from a document prepared in 1995 as a brief preview of our Brigades history. It is not intended to be the complete history.
As part of the ongoing recognition of the contribution of our brigade and its many volunteer members this history is currently being updated and extended. An invitation is extended to all current and past members to contribute.
In the Beginning
Investigations by Brigade members have found that in the early 1940’s there was a Mt. Keira Branch of the Bush Fire Brigade.
On the 21/09/1942 Central Illawarra Shire Council records show that Mr M.E. Bissell was elected Captain and Mr A. Emery elected Deputy Captain of the Mt. Keira Bush Fire Brigade.It is unknown at this stage when the Brigade was officially formed or even when it was disbanded.
A Second Start
Mt. Keira Bush Fire Brigade was reformed at a public meeting on Thursday 27/03/1969 at the Mt. Keira Community Hall.
About 100 residents of Mt. Keira and surrounding areas attended the meeting, all concerned with the protection of their communities from bush fires such as the disastrous 1968 fires. It was resolved on the motion of Mr Penrose, seconded by Mr Leggett that a bush fire brigade, to be known as the Keira Bushfire Brigade be formed for the protection of the Mt. Keira & Mt. Pleasant localities.
Mr Clive Bissell was elected as Fire Captain and Deputy Fire Captains were Mr M. Porter for the Mt. Keira area and Mr Peter Dodd for the Mt. Pleasant area.
Of the 100 or so residents at the meeting, 68 joined as active members and 6 joined as reserve members, thus Keira was reformed to become the 10th volunteer bushfire brigade to be formed in the greater Wollongong area.
Clive Albert Bissell (1911 – 1983)
Clive Albert Bissell was born at Mt. Keira on 18th October 1911 and lived there until his death on the 31st October 1983. He was always interested and involved in anything to do with Mt. Keira and its history. As a boy his parents had the Post Office and General Store at Mt. Keira. During this time the first electric street light came to Mt. Keira. Being opposite the Post Office he was given the job of switching it on and off using a long rod with a hood on the end. The Post Office, General Store and dwelling were destroyed by fire in 1929. He attended Mt. Keira Public School.
In his early days he played cricket with Mt. Keira Cricket Club and for several years from 1933 was appointed Honorary Secretary and Treasurer.
On 04/04/1966 he was appointed Honorary Ranger of Keira Sportsground by Wollongong Council.
He was a committee member for many years until it disbanded of the Mt Keira School of Arts.
Many weekends were spent with Wollongong Rotary Club forming the road to Mt. Keira Lookout and developing the Summit Park area. He helped lay the water for the toilets at the park from a spring he knew of on the mountain. Because of his effort and involvement he was invited to join the Wollongong Rotary Club and became a member from 1959 – 1976.
He moved a Camellia Tree (which was over 70 years old at the time) from a home opposite Mt. Keira School of Arts to near Victoria Rock at the Summit Park. The home this tree came from once belonged to a Mr MacDonald who had advocated for the road to the lookout.
In 1958 he was appointed to the Mt. Keira Summit Park Local Committee and became Secretary on 1977 and held this position until it was taken over by Wollongong Council Parks and Gardens.
He headed a committee of three and was the main one in organising the Mt. Keira School Centenary in 1961. This was attended by an estimated 1500 people. He was President of Mt. Keira School P&C Association for many years and was made the first life member.
When the Mt. Keira Bushfire Brigade was reformed in 1969 he was elected Captain and held the position for 5 years. As the Brigade had no tanker he gave use one of his own vehicles for a fire tanker. Until a fire shed was built the vehicles and equipment were kept at his residence. He was appointed Group Captain of Group 3, a position he held until his death.
He placed a stone with inscription on two unmarked graves at the back of Mt. Keira. These graves are of two early orchardists. One being Charles Buckle (1806 – 1892), aged 86 years. The other was Thomas Stanbridge, died 1895, aged 86 years. Thomas Stanbridge is buried beside his wife who died in 1886 (her grave already had a headstone on it).
A hobby which was in keeping with his interest in the bush was bird banding for the C.S.I.R.O. Division for Wildlife Research. The first entry in his record book was 1965 and the last in 1979.He served for country overseas in Borneo in the Second World War.
When the Brigade was reformed in 1969 it began without a station and not much more in the way of equipment. Until a Fire Shed was build the vehicles and equipment were kept at Clive Bissell’s residence, from there members would undertake training and perform hazard reductions.
It was not to be until 1973 that permanent housing for the trucks at a two bay shed behind the Mt. Keira Community Hall became available.
Over the years the Brigade had spent over $5000 improving the shed and its surrounds. In 1988 a bitumen driveway was provided by Wollongong City Council, which enabled brigade members to roll the fire hoses on the driveway rather than on Mt. Keira road. In 1988 the Brigade expanded its appliances with the arrival of a Troop Carrier (Keira 3). With no room at the Fire Shed it was housed privately.
1992 saw the Brigade members consider moving to a larger and more suitable property. With the assistance of B.H.P. Collieries land was made available at the entrance of Kemira Colliery on Mt. Keira Road. 1994 saw the start of major fund raising to construct a new Fire Station. By the end of 1994 the land re-zoning was in progress and the Brigade was well on the way to achieving its goal.
1995 saw the start of a 5 year lease on the site that B.H.P. Collieries donated.
The Brigades first Fire Tanker was a 1946 model Bedford affectionately known as “Gertie” and belonged to Clive Bissell. It had a capacity of 800 gallons and was in service with the Brigade from 1969 till 1974.
This was replaced with a 1970 C1300 International that was second hand from Darkes Forest Brigade. It had a capacity of 500 gallons and was in service from 1974 till 1992.
The third tanker was a 1974 Bedford again from Darkes Forest Brigade. It was in service from 1992 till 1993.
The fourth and present tanker is a new Isuzu Cat One capable of transporting 6 crew and 3000 litres. It was received in December 1993 and within three weeks was in Grafton assisting in a State of Emergency (41F).
Mt. Keira Brigades first striker was a Landrover 4WD table top with a 150 gallon tank, general purpose pump and hose reel. It serviced the Brigade from 1969 till 1984.
It was replaced with the second and present Striker, a Toyota Landcruiser 4WD table top. In 1991 Brigade members raised over $5000 to upgrade Keira 2 to its present standard.
Keira’s first and present troop carrier was presented to the Brigade second hand from Wollongong Bushfire Headquarters in 1988.
This vehicle allows the Brigade to transport extra members and equipment to fires and other incidents.
The Brigades first and only Tanker Trailer was in service from 1969 till 1988. It was rarely used due to the difficulty of reversing up Fire Trails. In its later years it was stored up at the Mt. Keira Lookout for added protection of the Kiosk.
Over the years the Brigade has attended to over 1000 incidents ranging from fires and motor vehicle accidents to rounding up cattle and helping pull a horse out of a pool.
The roll of the Brigade has changed dramatically since it started 25 years ago going mainly from attending fires to, motor vehicle accidents/fires, searching for missing persons, assisting in cliff rescues, storm damage, floods, and assisting out of area attending fires and storm damage.
Currently the Brigade attends to just as many car accidents as they do bushfires in a year.
100 Tonne Coal Wagon (by Ray Parsons)
Over the years B.H.P. Slab Plate Products Division at Port Kembla has been supporting local community groups in many ways. One method has been the painting of their 100 tonne coal wagons with selected community logos.
These wagons run between the Steelworks and local mines daily giving a high community profile to the group selected.
Early in 1988, Ted Jones (past Captain, Mt. Keira Bushfire Brigade) suggested the idea to the Mt. Keira Brigade.
Together with Chris Jacobson (Captain, Mt. Kembla Bushfire Brigade) they modified and repainted a H.O. model of an American rail coal hopper and presented the finished model to the B.H.P. Public Affairs and Engineering Departments who enthusiastically approved the idea.
Early in 1989 wagon BXLA162 returned to the workshop for overhaul and painting. It emerged as the most colourful wagon in the fleet, with the Mt. Keira Bushfire Brigade’s emblem on one side and the Mt. Kembla’s Brigade on the other.