Longest serving volunteer brigade celebrates 170 years

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‘Ready and Willing’ was Geelong City’s moto when first established 170 years ago, an ethos they have retained to this day.


Being the first established volunteer fire brigade in Australia, they celebrated their significant milestone over the weekend.

Geelong Volunteer Fire Brigade formed on 3 March 1854 with 64 members enrolled, the majority were merchants or traders of the town.

Geelong City Fire Brigade Captain Jeremy Egan said back in the day the brigade had some loosely formed arrangements often consisting of water carters that were called on through offers of payments to attends fires.


“As Geelong steadily grew in size and population, the residents became unimpressed with the unsatisfactory state of protection and urged for a properly organised and equipped fire brigade,” Jeremy said.

The Geelong Mayor at the time, Mr W.H. Bailey, called a public meeting and received expert advice from previous New York Fire Brigade member Mr J.R. Bailey, to expose the fire risk to the town and advocate for the formation of a Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The first station was built in Little Malop Street which was the brigade’s home until a new station was built in the early 1900s. The brigade is now in McKillop Street where the station has been redeveloped at the same site around three times.

Old station in Geelong

Jeremy said in the 1850s, the brigade had some members with experience from New York and London fire brigades.

“They brought insights on firefighting using teams, pumps and other modern equipment,” Jeremy said.

The first piece of firefighting equipment bought by the brigade was a hook and ladder carriage which arrived on 7 July 1854. The first fire engine then arrived a year later on 2 June 1855.

“This was a powerful engine built in London by the firm Shand Mason and Co. The engine was very strong and although it took 45 men to operate, it was capable of shooting a jet of water 218 feet in the air and could discharge 150 gallons per minute if the water supply was adequate,” Jeremy said.

The Victorian Government presented the brigade with one of two fire engines imported from America, named the Deluge. It was a manual pump, but of peculiar construction having cross levers. It remained part of the brigade’s equipment until 1873 when it was sold to the Corowa Fire Brigade for 90 pounds.

Old trucks in Geelong

“Over the first 90 years of the brigade’s existence, the brigade provided protection for Geelong through many dedicated volunteers,” Jeremy said.

“From CFA’s inception in 1945, the brigade expanded to include paid firefighters into its ranks and for the next 75 years, staff and volunteer firefighters stood side by side, committed to safeguarding homes and loved ones.

“There has been many events, fires, tragedies and triumphs over the years but one that sits strongly in our memory is the tragedy that struck at Linton, 25 years ago.

“Geelong West and Geelong City Fire Brigade trucks were trapped in a sudden wind change. The Geelong City crew was only 10-15 metres in front of the Geelong West crew.

“Our crew survived, only after exhausting the last of the water to protect themselves. Sadly, all five members of the Geelong West crew were killed.”

The Linton tragedy was the catalyst to many changes in CFA including training, equipment and crew protection and to this day, no firefighter has been lost in the same way.

Geelong City Fire Brigade has also battled many large historic bushfires including Ash Wednesday, the February 2009 fires and the 2019/20 Black summer fires. They have also been deployed to fires across the state and supported flood operations in Victoria’s north.

Jeremy has been volunteering with CFA for 15 years and was elected as the first Captain of Geelong City Fire Brigade following reform in 2020.

“It has been rewarding to help navigate the brigade through reforms and into a solid volunteer-based team. I have also had heaps of great support along the way from many dedicated members,” Jeremy said.

“There is an enormous sense of pride and respect for what has been achieved since that first brigade meeting many years ago.

“When we walk through our station, we see photos and memorabilia of so many who came before us.

“We can see they stood there for the same reasons – to protect the community. There is also a feeling of duty to continue the legacy with our efforts.”

As part of their 170 year anniversary celebration over the weekend, the brigade commissioned two awards for recognition of operational attendance and overall brigade support. These were awarded to:

  • Paterson Family Memorial Firefighter of the Year - John Paterson Senior, was a founding brigade member in 1854 and his 2 sons served the brigade with an aggregate 130+ years of continuous service. It was awarded to Ethan Bishop.
  • Captain’s Encouragement Award, the Captain George Murphy Memorial Award - Captain Murphy served the brigade in either an executive or officer position for in excess of 38 years. It was awarded to Ikuo Yazawa.

Awards were also presented to:

  • Lieutenant Lucas Nanninga, National Service Medal
  • David Bendle, 35-year CFA Long Service Medal
  • Lieutenant Andrew Tonkin, 20 year Long Service Medal
  • Josh Oates, 5-year certificate
  • Wes Monts, 5-year certificate


  • Member News image
  • Member News image Geelong City Fire Brigade Captain Jeremy Egan
  • Member News image Geelong City Fire Brigade 1st LT Andrew Tonkin, firefighter Ikuo Yazawa, 2nd LT Lucas Nanninga
  • Member News image Secretary and Treasurer Danny O'Toole
  • Member News image Award recipients: Back row - Ethan Bishop, Ikuo Yazawa, Josh Oates, Lucas Nanninga. Front row - Andrew Tonkin, David Bendle, Mayank Sharma, Wes Monts.
Submitted by CFA Media