Our Collection


The Fire Services Historical Society are the proud custodians of a very significant collection of firefighting appliances, firefighting equipment, interesting artefacts, historic photographs and a library of books including copies of many brigade histories.

Leather HoseFor those interested in vehicles we have a range of firefighting appliances starting in 1860 and heading into the new millenium. Many people will be interested in the wide range of fire associated items, such as uniforms, communications, waterway equipment, extinguishers, fire alarm systems, breathing apparatus, rescue equipment and lots of interesting miscellaneous items.

Some of our collection pre-dates fire brigades in New Zealand and it is unclear how they got here. Leather hose, glass grenade fire extinguishers and British fire marks are examples.

Our aim is to show a comprehensive record of how all matters related to fire and fire brigades have impacted on communities in New Zealand since the 1800's. We are a long way down the track, but are always keen to hear from anyone with something to contribute to this interesting slice of history.

Firefighting Appliances

1916 BuickFire Engines are certainly large items, and with about 80 in our current collection we do face storage issues. Obviously we do not have the space to have all appliances on display at the same time. We are working on projects to increase our display space.

Our appliance collection ranges from an 1860 hand drawn Merryweather tub pump to more modern appliances like a 1981 Tele-squirt or a 1991 Dennis which originated in England and did serve in New Zealand from August 2001 until retirement in April 2013. Usually the appliances we acquire are being retired from active firefighting duties at about 25 – 30 years of age

1924 Tilling-StevensSix of the appliances in the collection are owned either by private collectors or companies that have used them in years gone by as part of their on-site fire protection, and are generously on long term loan to the museum.

Of particular interest is the 1924 Tilling-Stevens turntable ladder, this is a petrol/electric combination which might be considered as well ahead of its time. The petrol engine drives a large generator, which provides the electricity to drive the vehcle. When at an incident the electricity is used to operate the turntable ladder, including elevation, extention and rotation. The combination of solid rubber tyres and hybrid technology is an amusing enigma.

More photos of our appliances are available in the galleries menu.

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Firefighting Equipment

GrenadeEquipment is a very general word covering a wide range of items. We have examples of firefighting protective clothing and helmets dating back to the 1800's. Our display is representative of all significant changes through to the present day.

Foam ExtFire Extinguishers range from small Glass Grenades used in the 1800's to large mobile chemical foam extinguishers used by Crash Firefighters at provincial airports.

We have branches (nozzles) and waterway equipment dating from wooden water mains to modern variable (jet/spray) monitors. It is facinating to see the ingenuity used by early branch manufacturers to break solid jets into usable spray patterns, this demonstrates an early understanding that spray patterns will absorb heat from the fire far more quickly than a solid stream of water.

Smoke HelmetIt was obvious, even in early days that a firefighter would be more effective (and safer) if it was possible to supply some clean air for breathing. Hence, BA (breathing apparatus) was developed.

An early concept was a hand pumped bellows forcing air through a hose into a smoke hood. An example of this is shown on the left. Todays breathing apparatus is self contained and the face masks use positive pressure from compressed air cylinders to prevent any inward leakage of toxic air to the wearer. Our collection includes examples of almost every step between these two extremes.

From leather buckets to synthetic hoses, from leather helmets to kevlar helmets, from woolen lancer tunics to PBI Gold/Gortex multi-layered bunker coats, from straight branches to highly engineered nozzles, all are represented in our collection.


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General Artefacts

This term is used to cover a multitude of items that are of a general nature and help complete the overall picture of fire service activity and development both in New Zealand and internationally. examples of items in this general category include insurance fire marks, brigade crests and plaques, medals and certificates, etc.

Fire Marks:

BerksNational Before municipal fire brigades were established many insurance companies formed fire brigades to protect the properties they insured. Each company had their own “Fire Mark” which they placed in a prominent position on the buildings they insured. Insurance Company brigades only put out fires in properties they insured. The focus was to save the insured property, the saving of life was coincidental.

We have a small collection of Fire Marks, which we hope to expand over time. Not all of these are from New Zealand.


Medals and Certificates:

Empson CertificateFrancis MedalOur collection includes a number of medals and certificates awarded to firefighters over the years. Many are for service given to a brigade. Some are for particular achievements like Royal Honours for outstanding contributions or winning competition events.

The medal shown on the left was presented to Fireman Francis of the Oamaru Volunteer Fire Brigade for winning the hosereel competition event in 1892.

The certificate shown on the right is a rather ornate service certificate issued by the United Fire Brigades Association (which was founded in 1878). This certificate was presented to Fireman Empson of the Christchurch Volunteer Fire Brigade for completion of three year's service in 1892.


Crests & Plaques:

Tokyo CrestHumbersideNo collection of fire brigade memoribillia would be complete without a range of crests, plaques, cap badges and other insignia that brigades have used as part of their identity. Such items are often swapped among firefighters and are nearly always used as a mark of appreciation when members of one brigade are hosted by another brigade, often as a means of sharing ideas and experiences.

Such collections are always growing and are difficult to keep any display up to date. Space and convenience dictate that our display is representative of the range available.


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Laurie ScottWe have a large number of photographs that have been collected over the years. Many are of great historic significance, but some are more of a snap shot nature. Regardless of photgraphic artistic merit, all of them do contribute to our history in some way.

Dennis & CrewSadly, the need to protect old photographs from damage, such as UV light damage, has not always been appreciated. Consequently some of our really old photos have deteriorated from being on display in unsuitable conditions. Thanks to advances in technology we are able to digitise and restore many of these items for future generations. Our display policy from now on is that we will display only digital copies of the photographs and keep the originals stored in dry, dark conditions to prevent any further deterioration.

In common with other historian type people we suffer from having lots of photographs of people and events that have not been named or dated. Now and again somebody does recognise someone in a photo and is able to help with a name and approximate date.

More of our historic photographs are available in the galleries menu, if you recognise people, events or times, please drop us an e-mail.

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The Society has a good library of both educational and historical books. Generally these are not on display, they are kept in library shelving and used for research purposes.

We have quite a collection of books produced at a time that a fire brigade has celebrated a significant milestone (e.g. 50 or 100 years). It is interesting how the history of the fire brigade closely aligns with the history of the community it serves. Almost every fire brigade has been formed following a significant fire in their community. Often the trigger to form the brigade was the church or hotel or brewery burning down.

Unfortunately, we do not have anywhere near a complete collection of these brigade history books and would like to hear from any fire brigade that has produced a book or books to check if their history is part of our library.

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