EXPERIENCE: QFRS Assistant Commissioner Mark Roche (left) followed in the footsteps of father Peter (right), to become a firefighter in Ipswich.
EXPERIENCE: QFRS Assistant Commissioner Mark Roche (left) followed in the footsteps of father Peter (right), to become a firefighter in Ipswich. Rob Williams

Ipswich began proud tradition of firefighting 150 years ago

THERE might be a faint hint of smoke in the air over the North Ipswich corporate centre this weekend, as generations of the city's firefighting heroes unite in celebration.

It has been 150 years since the first Queensland fire station was established in Ipswich in 1865.

Today's celebration will reflect on the tremendous acts of bravery that have charcterised the fire service over the past 15 decades, as well as the tragedies that have defined Ipswich, and the enormous leaps in technology available to fire fighters.

Ipswich station officer Des Sardie said the first recognised ringing of the fire bell in Ipswich occurred on November 6, 1865.

"Basically the service has come from the old bucket brigades of the 1800s, to the horse and cart in the early 1900s, to the first motorised appliance in about 1908," Mr Sardie said.

"Since then we've seen a steady evolution in our equipment. In the 70s, we were governed by the Ipswich fire brigade board, then in the 80s and 90s the funding became consistent across the state and all brigades were given set vehicles and all operated under the one banner.

"The technology is just phenomenal now and the training involved just to drive one of the trucks or operated the pumps is very involved."

In addition to having the first fire brigade in Queensland, Ipswich also triggered some of the big steps forward in firfighting technology - including an often overlooked piece of equipment, the firefighter's helmet.

On September 3, 1963, an Ipswich firefighter by the name of Bobby Hunter tripped over a hose while fighting a fire at the Russ Dore's electrical shop in Brisbane St.

The sturdy old brass helmet that firies wore in that era turned out to be of little use, as Hunter toppled onto the gutter.

The helmet was later blamed for fatally fracturing Hunter's skull, and resulted in the switch to polycarbonate helmets across the service.

Today, ultra strong and lightweight kevlar helmets are used.

Despite being based at Kedron as the now Deputy Commissioner of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Serivice, Mark Roche started his career in Ipswich in 1979 and was part of one of the city's defining tragedies - the infamous Reid's fire.

Deputy Commissioner Roche was only 24 when the fire ripped through the iconic department store, but his memories of that night are vivid.

"I was stationed at Redbank and I had to drive the appliance into town," he said.

"You could see the glow in the sky as we approached.

"We stayed on the Nicholas St side about three or four hours and then came back around to Bell St about 6.30am, and it looked like a bomb hit it - honestly, it looked like Beirut.

"I definitely think Ipswich lost its heart with that fire, because as a kid, that's where everyone went."

Dep Comm Roche said the other jobs that stuck out in his 35-years as a firefighter included the Laidley train derailment - also in 1985 - the Crawford's furniture shop fire in the top of town and a traffic crash at Twin Bridges, Fernvale, where a truck crushed the cabin of a sedan.

"I will always have a soft spot for Ipswich," he said.

"A lot of friendships were made that will remain well and truly after I have retired.

"Ipswich is not a small town, but it is a place where a lot of people know each other, and the camaraderie is top notch.

"I've got no doubt that on Saturday night there will be a few retired folk that you'll just start a conversation with from word go.

"There will be a lot of proud old blokes and there will be a smell of smoke in the air again."

Fire and Emergency Services Minister Jo-Ann Miller will be among the high-profile guests at the function.

Ms Miller has paid tribute to her city's rich firefighting history.

"Much has changed since the first alarm bell was sounded, but the dedication and courage of local firefighters has remained constant," Ms Miller said.

"Throughout all that time those who have worn the uniform have risked everything to protect lives and property.

"Their commitment to keep the community safe has stood the test of time and on behalf of the Palaszczuk Government I want to thank all those who have served with such selfless distinction."

During the ceremony tonight, Ms Miller will join Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll to present a plaque in recognition of the city's firefighting history.

Our first firies

The Ipswich Fire Brigade was established five years after Ipswich Municipal Council considered collecting subscriptions for the purchase of a fire engine.

After decades of fighting fires with buckets, a tricycle fire reel and later a horse-drawn cart, the Ipswich Fire Brigade obtained its first motor fire vehicle in 1908.

The council built a shed in 1878 before a fire station was built in the main street in 1918.