Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966

[Part Two. For part one, see Journal 5: Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade - E]



In two World Wars the Paeroa Fire Brigade played its part. Its Roll of Honour on the wall of the Fire Station bears the following record:



* killed in action



Typical of the numerous functions in connection with the War Services of its members are the following accounts of Welcome Home celebrations, one from each War:

SEPTEMBER 1915 : A Civic Reception was tendered to Fireman E. Gosper who has returned from Gallipoli. The Brigade mustered at the Rail Station with the reel prettily decorated with the different nations' flags, a chair being placed on the reel to convey our Soldier to the Brigade Shed where he was received by His Worship the Mayor, Mr. W.J. Towers, the Band, and friends. Toasts were given to our returned hero, to the Boys still at the Front, and to those about to leave for the Firing Line.

JULY 17, 1943 : When Fireman Harold Moore arrived in Paeroa shortly after noon on Saturday, having been invalided home from the Middle East, he was greeted at the Criterion Bridge by members of the Brigade with hearty cheers and handclasps. Also there to welcome him were His Worship the Mayor, Mr. Edwin Edwards.

Mounted high above the fire engine was a banner bearing the words "Welcome Home" and the motor was gay with numerous flags. The decorated engine with the Brigade aboard led the way, its bell ringing joyous peals all the journey through the Main Street to the Fire Station. Here the Deputy-Mayor Mr .H. Shand, the Chairman of the Fire Council, Mr .J. Walmsley, and other members of the public joined in a brief welcome function. The gathering was presided over by Foreman C.W. Malcolm. There were brief speeches, toasts, and "For he's a jolly good fellow".

Preceded by the fire engine once more, the happy procession made its way via the Main Street, Victoria St., and Wood St., to the returning soldier's own home where the long journey had its fitting ending in "the way they have in the Fire Brigade".

Other members of the Brigade who served in the first World War do not appear on the Roll of Honour because they were not in the Brigade when they left for overseas. Deputy Chief Fire Officer Tony Tomich and Foreman Harry Wilton, Gallipoli Veterans, were such.


During its first seventy years the Paeroa Brigade has answered a total of 577 fire calls. Report after report in the GAZETTE gives the Brigade high praise for its promptness and efficiency. In spite of numerous handicaps it has never received adverse criticism of its fire-fighting efforts. Fire after fire has been caught before it got beyond the building - and often the room - in which it started. One report reads: "That persons can be awakened from sleep by their house being afire, get to the nearest house with a telephone, call a scattered and sleeping Brigade to the scene, and have the fire confined to a small section of the roof, speaks for itself. At the same time the Brigade must be congratulated on the care it used to reduce damage by water to a minimum. The state of the street hydrant was a disgrace and presented a setback to the Brigade".

The Brigade has saved the town and its property owners very many thousands of pounds. It is a record of which the town and its Brigade may be justly proud. Only on l4 occasions, on an average once in every five years, has the public been treated to the spectacle of a conflagration, and even at these times, the efficiency and courage of the Brigade in confining the blaze have received unstinted commendation in the press.

THE BIG FIRES in the history of the town, with some of their headlines taken from the OHINEMURI GAZETTE are as follows:-

(1) 1896 AUGUST 18: 7 p.m. At the new hotel (Delaney's) in course of erection in the lower township. Adjoining buildings were saved in a two hours' fight.

(-) 1898 OCTOBER 29: 1.5 a.m. the firebell was rung for a blaze which proved to be at Karangahake. Capt. O'Hara ordered Lieutenant Harry Moore and five firemen to proceed and render any assistance. They helped in stopping the spread of the fire and in saving goods. Eight buildings were burnt, the damage being £5,000 - a large sum for those days. The men arrived home shortly after 4 a.m.

(2) 1900 MAY 20; 1.15 a.m. An "immense blaze" was seen in the direction of the Post Office (Victoria St.) It had originated somewhere near Bromwich's bakehouse and had a good hold, a gale blowing at the time and taking the flames on to Price's stables and the National Bank. The bakehouse and stables were destroyed as well as Gooch's office, Kenny and Son's Surveyors, an unoccupied office, and part of Kenrick's office. The water pressure was good and "about 3 a.m. one of the biggest fires in Paeroa was extinguished".

(3) 1909 JUNE 30: 10.50 p.m. the night Local No License was carried, the large two-storeyed Ohinemuri Hotel owned by Mr. G. Power and situated on the adjacent corner from Fathers Hotel was destroyed. The building was uninsured and the loss estimated at £1,000. The fire had a strong hold but the Brigade saved an adjoining house separated by a narrow alleyway; this house still Stands (1965) on the Main Street (Normanby Road).

(4) 1909 NOVEMBER 3 : McAndrews' Sash and door factory in Francis St. The fire had a good hold and in view of the inflammable nature of the property it "raged from 5.15 p.m. till midnight", the damage being estimated at £12,000. the insurance being £4,000.


Shortly after 4 a.m. Fireman R. Dempsey saw the blaze and Captain Moore and his Brigade were quickly on the scene. The fire broke out in the Standard 5 and 6 room of the Paeroa School in Wood St. Unfortunately only a 2-inch water pipe was available and a lead had to be run from the Post Office corner (Victoria and Willoughby Sts.) The School Committee had for three years requested a 4-inch main past the School but the Council had required a contribution of £10 and the Committee had been "endeavouring to find the money". Before three rooms were destroyed "willing hands" managed to save some of the desks, slates, books, etc., but most were destroyed. The Infant Block though blistered and with windows broken, was saved, as was also the damaged Standard I and II room. The Infant Room still remains, and the other room was in use until 1965 when it was sold for removal as a wool-shed for a local farmer. A searching enquiry was held at which evidence was given by the Headmaster, Mr. Frank Murphy, the Standard VI Teacher Mr. G.H. Pocock, the School Cleaner, and Capt. Moore who considered the chimneys to have been faulty. Mr. Pocock was a heavy loser of books and a private museum. The value of the buildings was between £800 and £1,000.


"The most terrible fire that has ever occurred in Paeroa took place shortly after one o'clock this morning when Mr. G. Crosby's private boarding house, formerly the Royal Mail Hotel, was completely destroyed." Mr. George Preston, known as "Scotty", and recently from Scotland was burned to death, the fire starting in his room. Medhurst's stables adjacent caught fire but were saved, buggies, coaches, office furniture, and horses being removed to safety. The sample rooms at the back in Wharf Street were badly scorched. A constant stream of water was poured on to Spry's shop opposite in Belmont Rd., heat scorching the building and cracking windows. Mr. H. Moore's two-storeyed building across Wharf St. "started to smoke" requiring another stream of water. "One fireman at a fire plug in, Wharf St. had to have a constant stream of water playing on him to prevent his clothes catching alight". (Dave McWatters and Chas. Rolton were in this plight.) Five leads were required and in a one-and-a-half hours' fight the fire was extinguished, a 40-roomed building being consumed. The insurance was £1,450 but the loss was double this amount.

(7) 1916 : JULY 27. while some of the Brigade were still on duty at Hague Smith's fire (two-storeyed building opposite Criterion Hotel) a further alarm was rung at 1.30 a.m. the fire being in Jakob Bertelsen's "City Buffet" or Central Boarding-house, where the Power Board Building was later erected. The fire plug was buried under metal and a high wind was blowing. The building and a cottage adjoining were destroyed, but the two-storeyed Belmont Boarding house alongside, though badly damaged, was saved. A Coroners Enquiry followed the fire.


Thus was destroyed the building which had been saved on the occasion of Crosby's fire. Some of the Brigade who had been to a social were conversing in the vicinity of the fire-bell tower and were earliest on the scene. Fortunately the 15 horses had been paddocked by the men early in the evening for the "violence and rapidity of the flames" consumed the building within an hour, several buggies and coaches, and 3 cars were lost. The wind being in that direction, fears were aroused for the Borough Council Chambers and the Central Theatre in Wharf St. but these were saved as well as the burnt out shell of the front of the stables on Belmont Road. The loss was over £2.000.

(9) 1918: AUGUST 3: SATURDAY shortly after 3 a.m.


At this great fire the heat was so intense that the GAZETTE considers it "wonderful how the firemen stuck to their post". Lieutenant Harry Spinks and Fireman Shaw had a "miraculous escape" when the front of Donelly's Boot shop collapsed on the footpath where they were standing. Fireman "Mick" Goldsworthy was burnt by flying sheets of white-hot corrugated iron when Ernie Moore was endeavouring to ward off from above their heads by directing the hose-jet at them! The boot shop was destroyed, also the upstairs Masonic Hall, together with E.H. Andrew's tailor shop and Mrs. Pascoe's shop (fruiterer and confectioner) but the fire was stopped here in the two-storeyed building owned by Mr. A. Cassrels. Mr. D. Vincent's saddlery was alight several times, and the frontages of Wm. Cullen's and D. McWatters shops were blistered and blackened. Mr. Parker's dental surgery was damaged by people in panic removing fittings and furniture to the road, even wrenching the telephone from the wall.

The roll-call was answered by Capt.Moore, Lieut. Spinks, Firemen E. Goldsworthy, E. Moore, D. McWatters, L. Shaw, W. Collett, E. Martin, Jno. Hubbard and Wm. Bain.

(l0) 1918: AUGUST 22: THURSDAY 4 a.m.


This splendid theatre with its great gallery, its large stage, its well appointed dressing-rooms, its separate concert chamber, and its shops, was the equal of any city theatre and catered for the biggest travelling shows. Its destruction was a grievous loss to the town which had been so fortunate as to have had it. On the previous evening "one of the largest assemblies ever held in Paeroa" had used the Theatre to welcome back "heroes from the War". There had been dancing till 2 a.m. Then came the fire! The theatre was destroyed; the offices of the Hauraki Land Agency were gutted but its books saved; the office of Mr. T.A. Moresby, Solicitor, was damaged, as also was Mr. M.J. Harris's jeweller shop; Mr. Campbell, Fruiterer, occupying the shop in the Theatre lost all his uninsured stock. The Theatre was insured for £2,150 and its fittings £765.

FOUR FIRES OCCURRED IN AUGUST 1918 and the public unrest led to the demand for the appointment of a second policeman to the town.

(11) 1923: OCTOBER 15; shortly after 2 a.m.


A two-storeyed, 23 roomed building owned by Mr. A. Cassrels, and occupied by Mrs. A. Davidson as the Montrose Boardinghouse, was seen by a lodger in the nearby Paeroa Hotel to be alight. A south-westerly breeze aroused fears for the Paeroa Hotel as the fire had a strong hold, the kahikatea timber burning like matchwood. Only with difficulty did boarders escape in their night attire. After a three hours' fight only the front shell of the building and a few articles of furniture remained. Insurance: Building £800; furniture and effects £450.

(12) 1939: OCTOBER 30: 2.30 p.m.

"Salt's" Railway Boardinghouse of two storeys and 14 rooms, occupied by R. Lowe. The building on the corner of Junction Rd. and Railway St. was destroyed together with the adjoining cottage occupied by Mr. and Mrs. G. Fisher. The next building. Short Bros.' coal and firewood store was saved. In a S.W. gale the fire consumed the buildings with amazing speed, and sparks carried on the wind set alight to the verandah of the Paeroa Hotel across the railway line.

(l3) 1948: DECEMBER 13: WHARF STREET - This fire destroyed a link with Paeroa's past

The Choral Hall, used in early days as the Salvation Army Hall, and later converted to a theatre, was, in 1948, in use as a large factory manufacturing dolls. The Brigade, in a strenuous battle, saved adjacent property including the Civic Hall separated by a narrow alleyway.

(l4) 1952: SEPTEMBER 20: NORMANBY ROAD - Another Paeroa landmark on the corner of Normanby Road and Victoria Street, opposite the Criterion Hotel, disappeared. This was the two storeyed old Bank of New Zealand building.

In 1963, the HAURAKI GAZETTE headlines announced: "PAEROA BLAZE GUTS SHOP IN WORST FIRE FOR 12 YEARS". This referred to the old Bank Fire, and reported the destruction of Mr. F.T. Gregson's shop opposite the Telephone Exchange in the Main St. Thick fog and freezing conditions hampered the Brigade's efforts which, however, received the highest praise for saving the buildings on either side - the National Bank and Mr. D. McWatters' shop - the owner ex-Secretary and Fireman Dave McWatters, described it as "an amazing save". He himself helped to fight the great fire in the same block on August 3rd, 1918.


The Brigade's outstanding record of efficiency and service is the more remarkable when one considers how often in its history its members suffered frustrations, lack of adequate support, and inadequate provision of equipment. The Brigade had frequently to canvass the town for funds, organise concerts, sell tickets for picture benefits, contribute from their own pockets and, on more than one occasion, in desperation, threaten the controlling authority with resignation. Such troubles with the early FIRE PREVENTION COUNCIL are recorded on page16 of the previous History Journal [see Journal 5: Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade - E]. This body was elected by an annual meeting of the householders.

The PAEROA BOROUGH COUNCIL was formed in 1915 when the Fire Prevention Council asked to be relieved of its responsibilities. Cr. Ellis is reported in the GAZETTE as saying that the business people wished to be relieved of "voluntarily subscribing" to the funds of the Brigade. The columns of the local paper, however, give evidence of quite an unwillingness on the part of the Borough Council to have anything to do with the Fire Brigade. At its September meeting it deferred a request from the Fire Prevention Council for financial assistance to the extent of £30. On December 10, 1915 at the Annual Meeting of Householders, none of the members of the Fire Council was willing to be re-elected - Messrs. P. E. Brenan, W.H. Taylor, W.D. Nicholas, and R.W. Medhurst all declining. No nominations were forthcoming and a resolution from the meeting asked the Borough Council to take over. The Borough Council continued unwilling until, on 10th February, 19l6, Cr. P.E. Brenan moved "that the Borough Council assume control of the Brigade from tonight". This was seconded by Cr. A. Fielder and carried. A FIRE PREVENTION COMMITTEE was set up as a sub-committee of the Borough Council. It soon found the Brigade voicing its needs:

March 1916 the Brigade urged the provision of boots and uniforms.

August 1916 they informed the Council that the "shed" was inadequate for housing the equipment; boots were urgently needed.

December l916 they informed the Council that unless satisfactory arrangements were made re the quarterly donation to the Brigade they would resign as a body.

April 1917 Captain Moore "waited on the Council" re money matters.

August 1917 the Brigade resolved that "in view of the unsatisfactory way in which the Brigade is treated by the Borough Council the Brigade as a whole wait on the Council".

October 1917 a special meeting between Councillors Brenan, Flatt, Graves and Fielder of the Fire Prevention Committee and Capt. Moore, Lieut. Spinks, and Secretary McWatters of the Brigade decided on the setting up of a FIRE COUNCIL to consist of 4 Councillors and 3 Brigade members.

FIRE COUNCIL set up 1917.

THE FIRE COUNCIL administered the affairs of the Brigade until 1950.

December 4, 1919, however, saw another special meeting chaired by Cr. F. Flatt and attended by Councillors and members of the Brigade. The complaints of the Brigade filled four columns of the OHINEMURI GAZETTE. Uniforms were still inadequate and firemen protested against having to replace at their own expense boots ruined at fires. Further, exception was taken at the alleged statement that the threatened resignation of the Brigade would be met by the enrolment of new members to take their places. Cr. Flatt was asked to deny this, and his letter duly appeared in a subsequent issue of the GAZETTE.

Although the Brigade had three members on the FIRE COUNCIL they had no real executive power and meetings were sometimes not held for long intervals. On one occasion Secretary Malcolm of the Brigade caused a storm by writing direct to the Borough Council asking for direct attention to the Brigade's needs "as a meeting of the Fire Council seems unlikely to be held". His letter was "not received" and the Secretary was told in writing that it was "improper for the Brigade to charge the Fire Council with failing to function".

The Brigade was unrepentant and, in 1929 when its meagre Social Fund Grant of £12 from the Council failed to put in an appearance from the Council the Brigade purchased 12 new uniform caps and sent the account for £6.14.9 to the Council asking them to pay for them out of the Social Grant they were still holding on to!

In 1930 the Brigade had been warned by the United Fire Brigades Association that it was illegal to drive a fire engine without its siren sounding. An accident on the way to a fire would render the driver liable to serious legal consequences. The Council declined to supply a siren. The Brigade purchased one and sent the account to the Council for payment!

In 1938 a special meeting of the FIRE COUNCIL was attended by the Mayor, Mr. W. Marshall and Secretary Malcolm's Report on the Requirements of the Brigade was considered. Mr. Marshall was very sympathetic towards the Brigade's needs - a new fire engine, the lining of the corrugated iron fire "station", an increase in the Council's grant to the Brigade's Social Fund, and various other matters.

On January 25, 1939, the GAZETTE LEADING ARTICLE said: "The visit of Mr. Gwilliam, Chairman of the Fire Council, to the Brigade last evening was taken as a sign that the Borough was beginning to recognise its responsibility to the Brigade". The occasion was the recognition of Captain W. J. Moore's 43 years of service!

In May, 1942 Mr. J. Walmsley, a loyal and enthusiastic Chairman of the Fire Council announced that £200 had been made available for the Brigade to purchase a pump and £500 had been placed on the estimates for a new fire engine. Both could be combined towards an engine equipped with a pump to boost pressure from the water mains in the Borough.

The Brigade had earlier raised £90 for a fire engine which it had handed over to the Council as a loan towards building the new Fire Station in Hall Street. The Brigade frequently referred also to the £50 which they had "handed over when the Borough Council took control".


The FIRE SERVICES ACT set up a new system for the control of Fire Brigades so that, on 1st April, 1950, the PAEROA URBAN FIRE AUTHORITY took over the control of the Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade.

This Authority consists of 5 members appointed as follows:

2 appointed by the Underwriters (Insurance Companies).

2 appointed by the Paeroa Borough Council.

1 Government representative, nominated by the Brigade, appointed by the Minister of Internal Affairs. This latter position has been held since first appointment, by Secretary Eric F. S. Pett of the Paeroa Brigade.

The Authority prepares its estimates of expenditure for each year and is financed 50% by Underwriters. 40% by Local Body (Borough Council) and 10% by Government (Internal Affairs). (to be continued).

[For part three, see Journal 7: Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade (continued) - E]