The brigade had seen the need as multiple storey timber and tin buildings were popping up everywhere making access a challenge during a fire. The still thriving gold rush days of Bendigo and its surrounds were filled with hopefuls from near and far looking to find that elusive nugget or bag of gold dust and warm sturdy accommodation was at a premium.
Two and three storey hotels abounded and so were the factories and mining related structures such as poppet heads. Although there were several manual pumps in neighbouring brigades which would respond to fires, finding a plentiful supply of water was another matter. The number one priority at a fire call was of course to save lives. The need arose to quickly get a long ladder in place to assist those trapped by fire and it was achieved by the deployment of an escape ladder and a salvage crew. Most times this was being setup while the manual pump crews were trying to locate a good source of water and run out their lines from fire-fighting reels.
The original ladder escape with one fixed and two extension ladders could reach to most rooftops and upstairs windows and allow people to be rescued as quickly as they could scamper down the rungs. The rig was pulled along by two horses and as the story goes; if the horses weren’t harnessed to the cart prior to the doors being opened after the alarm had been sounded they would bolt from the station by themselves.
The Sandhurst brigades (Sandhurst City, Sandhurst No.1 and Sandhurst Temperance) were formed into the Bendigo brigades during 1899 and the ladder was used until 1944 when the American LaFrance motorised ladder truck arrived. 53 years is a long time for an appliance to still be used in any organisation but its quick setup and manoeuvrability made it invaluable. The Country Fire Brigades Board sold the ladder to builders Saunders & Ross and eventually it was acquired by the Bendigo City Council for maintenance on tall council buildings.
When the disused ladder was going to be disposed of by the Council in 2007, it was offered to the Central Victoria Fire Service Preservation Society for restoration. With paint flaking off and most of the timberwork looking very sad indeed, the unit was hauled in for inspection. It had been heavily modified over the years with altered axles and rubber tyres with steel rims fitted, so the task at hand was to gather original images of the ladder and start working on quotes for the rebuild. It was estimated the final bill would be around $50,000 to complete the job. As the society only had $2000 in the bank, sponsors and donors were desperately needed to get the ball rolling.
With thanks to the following organisations the work proceeded: Abbott Foundation, City of Greater Bendigo Community Grants, City of Greater Bendigo Easter Festival, Eaglehawk Fire Brigade, Bendigo Fire Brigade, RHM Group Pty Ltd, Bags on Williamson Travel & Shoe Repairs and the dedicated time and effort put in by CVFSPS members in particular John White & Doug Murley.
The original timber used in the ladder was English Oak and Oregon but it was rebuilt using some of the old timbers along with new Hardwood and laminated ply. The steelworks were reused and when cleaned down, the original hammer marks from the blacksmith’s hammer were still quite visible. Every part was dismantled from the ladder and either rebuilt or replaced, then reassembled as a whole before pulling apart and repainting the items prior to reassembling again. The wheels were rebuilt in the ACT and over 1400 man hours went into the project at a final cost of $38,390. It is believed to be the only working ladder of its kind left in the world.
Although this unit is the current pride of the fleet, the Preservation Society has many other vehicles and memorabilia in the bag. They would welcome any new members or sponsors to be involved with the group and all you need to do is contact President Tim Rosewell on 0409-333232 or email email@example.com