Fires & fire brigades guide

A brief overview of the major sources in our collection that relate to fires.

Historical Overview

The Fire Brigades Board was constituted under the terms of the Fire Brigades Act of 1884 which formally introduced a government organised fire service for the Sydney metropolitan area. Sydney's fire protection had previously been provided by volunteer and insurance company brigades. In January 1910, the Fire Brigades Board was replaced by the Board of Fire Commissioners under the terms of the Fire Brigades Act of 1909. In November 1989, following the critical Grey Report, the Board was dismissed. The Fire Brigades Act, which was assented to on 19 December 1989, established the New South Wales Fire Brigades on 1 January 1990.

Records relating to fire

Fire Stations

Each fire station maintained records of its operations and attendance at fires. In metropolitan fire stations these were called Fire station record books and in country stations they were known as Fire station occurrence books. Consult our catalogue for records of specific fire stations.


Coroners are authorised by the Coroners Act, 1980 to hold inquests into any fire which may have caused the destruction of property or injury to a person. A coroner may also dispense with an inquest when the circumstances around the fire are sufficiently disclosed to make a formal court hearing unnecessary. See the Inquests & coronial records guide for further information.

Criminal cases involving arson

The Supreme Court of New South Wales' criminal jurisdiction includes two offences relating to fire. They are: setting fire to a dwelling house knowing a person to be therein; and, setting fire to a vessel etc. a person being therein. These crimes were punishable by death before 1955. Hence records of criminal proceedings for these crimes may be included in the records of the Supreme Court in its Criminal Jurisdiction (the Central Criminal Court and Circuit Courts). Lesser offences relating to fire may have been heard in the lower courts.

Police Gazettes

This publication was circulated weekly to all police stations until 1974, when it began to be circulated twice a month. Fire inquests will be indexed under I for 'Inquests - Inquest on fire' for the years 1868-1922.

List of main record series

Fire Brigades Board

NRS 4262
Superintendent's reports 
These include reports of fires attended and the occupancy of land by fire stations.
NRS 4265
[11/16227-16228, 3/12945, 7/15759-61, 3/12656]
Newspaper cutting books 
Newspaper cuttings about major fires. Each fire is dated and cites the newspaper source.

Board of Fire Commissioners

Registered files 
These files cover a wide variety of subjects from routine matters, policy and procedural matters, major administrative and functional arrangements and major equipment matters.
NRS 476
[20/14725-91, 3/12943]
Special bundles 
Included are correspondence, conferences, reports, Select Committee reports, and press cuttings.
NRS 528
General record of fire registers for the Sydney area 
Information provided for each fire attended includes: annual number of fire; day and date; time of call; when discovered; called by; locality; occupier; insurance on contents; owner of premises; insurance on building; construction; supposed cause of fire; extinguished by; attendance of engines from permanent stations; number of officers and men; appliances and men from volunteer stations; and damage.
NRS 529
General record of fire registers for country district 
The information provided in these registers is similar to that contained in NRS 528 above.
NRS 530
[3/13024-13062, 6/11613-11865, 14/1548-1554.1, 6/17612-17616, 6/13612-13736]
Fire station record books
Includes lists of fires attended by various stations showing: date; time of call; by whom called; locality; occupier; business; construction; supposed cause; extinguished by; damage; and, attendance.Further records may be located in Archives Investigator under the name of a particular fire station.
1943-1983, 1925-1931, 1983-1985, 1945-1986
NRS 531
[14/1737.1 part]
List of important fires for the Sydney Fire District
 This series records the names and addresses of companies where important fires occurred, the trade engaged in by those companies, and dates of fires.
NRS 534
Files on major fires 
These files are reports on fires attended by fire brigades within the area defined by the Fire Brigades Act. Some files also include newspaper clippings and/or statements by attending firemen if an inquest was necessary.
1906-1936, 1941-1963, 1966-1972
NRS 535
Files relating to fires outside of Fire District areas 
These files deal with correspondence and reports relating to fires attended by fire brigades outside the fire area district. If fires were attended, the brigade was reimbursed financially by the person whose property was attended.
NRS 536
Inquests into fires 
These files were originally a part of NRS 534, but were removed because an extensive inquest had taken place as the result of a death or suspicious circumstances associated with the fire.
NRS 556
[7/15762-15764, 3/12657-12671, 14/1743.2, 20/14834-14835, 11/16229-16230]
Newspaper cuttings
Newspaper clippings kept on major fires. Each fire is dated and cites the newspaper source.
NRS 563
[3/13011-13, 6/13257-13611, 3/13011-13013, 6/17599-17611]
Fire station occurrence books 
These volumes record the day to day running of fire stations and show time and occurrence.Further records may be located in Archives Investigator under the name of a particular fire station.
Feb 1898-Aug 1901, Jul 1935-Mar 1936, Apr-May 1962, 1910-1984, 1952-1968, 1981-1983 
NRS 577
[14/1739.5-1740], 1988-90 [3/1782D.2]
Journal of the Board: Fire News 
Fire News was a quarterly journal published by the Board of Fire Commissioners. Previous titles were Fire Service (1955-56) and Fire (1957-67). From 1983 a monthly news sheet entitled Fire Service Update was published to supplement the Journal.

Records relating to fire engines

Board of Fire Commissioners

Registered files 
Files relating to motor fire engines are numbered 901 and include pump tests, mechanical repairs and the general program for the purchase of fire engines.
Instruction Manuals 
The manuals are produced for all firefighers and cover all facets of firefighting including the handling of fire engines and other equipment.
Examination Syllabi and related papers
This series comprises some surviving printed syllabi from the courses a fireman undertook. Included is [4] Drills for motor fire engines, hose reels and hose cards, 1939

Further reading

Colin Adrian, Fighting fire: a century of service 1884-1984. Sydney, George Allen & Unwin, 1984.

See also Activity No. 240 Fire Prevention and Control in the State Archives catalogue. Records are listed under the following agency headings.

  • Agency No. 616 Fire Brigades Board
  • Agency No. 618 Board of Fire Commissioners
  • Agency No. 619 NSW Fire Brigades
  • Agency No. 817 State Emergency Services