Land Rover Firefly

At about 3:45 on a cold April morning in 1951 an explosion erupted from the electricity switchboard room of the Kosciusko Hotel, atop the Snowy Mountains.

The hotel was situated in the snowfields about halfway between Jindabyne and Charlotte’s Pass, about 12km from Perisher Valley. It was well located to provide accommodation for some of the senior men working on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme, universally known as The Snowy.

But the hotel’s timber construction meant that the fire quickly took hold, while its isolation meant there was little that could be done to bring the fire under control.

The fire quickly spread to the nearby four-story workers’ quarters. Within a few hours both buildings were reduced to smouldering ruins.

Thankfully, nobody was killed in the inferno, but one man, Edward Hutchison, the hotel’s engineer, was later taken to hospital with burns to his arms and face, from trying to fight the fire.

Around 70 guests and 80 staff members stood shivering, mostly in only their nightclothes, in the light drizzle that was falling. It was later in the day before all had been ferried to Cooma on busses.

The fire highlighted the need for a small, first-response fire unit that could at least hold a fire at bay until larger fire tankers could get to the scene. The Kosciusko Hotel was in a relatively accessible area, but for many of the isolated workers camps and temporary townships of the hydro scheme, only a fire unit with all-terrain capability would do the job.

By this time, the Land Rover was the backbone of the transport fleet for The Snowy, with already around 100 in use (see next story). Ideally, a small fire unit mounted on a Land Rover would be just what was needed.

Land Rover Fire Engines

Land Rover was one step ahead of The Snowy’s fire service and already had such a unit available. A small fire tender had been developed at the factory on the original 80” Series 1 Landy, available from July or August 1949, according to James Taylor in Original Land-Rover Series I.

Four such units were ordered through NSW Rover agents Grenville Motors and arrived completely built-up from the factory for delivery to the Snowy Mountains Authority (SMA) on 26 May 1953, according to existing company records.

While they arrived already set up as fire engines, they apparently had all their hoses and fittings added in Australia, to meet NSW requirements – no doubt due to the provision of equipment standards under the Bush Fires Act of 1949.

We have not been able to find any information on how much use these fire tenders were put to, or how successful they were, but clearly the SMA was happy enough with them. They were replaced, reportedly in May 1955, with the 86” version – available from the factory between 1954 and 1956.

Of the four 80” models, one is known to have been wrecked at Emerald in Victoria, another is believed to have been stripped, and the remaining two are reportedly in the hands of private collectors.

Precious little is known about the 86” models used by the SMA, other than they existed, but if any of our readers has one or can provide more information, we would very much like to hear from you.

Although Pressed Metal Corp in Enfield had been assembling Land Rovers since around the end of 1956, all the fire tenders had been imported Completely Built Up (CBU).

Suffice to say that clearly the SMA continued to be happy with its Land Rover fire engines, for by 1960 it was looking at replacing them with the latest units.

Angus Firefly

However, by this time Land Rover was no longer making fire engines, as it was found that virtually every fire chief wanted the vehicles specified to his requirements, Land Rover was unable to provide a standard specification for all customers and it was not viable for the factory to be producing one-off units to individual customer requirements.

Instead, from the introduction of the Series II Land Rovers, in 1958, they palmed off production of the fire units to authorised third-party businesses that were able to provide the individual service that the fire brigades wanted.

One of the most successful and best known of these was Angus Fire Armour. The Angus company had been manufacturing fire hoses and other equipment since late in the 18th century and released its first Land Rover based fire engine in 1960, marketed as the Firefly.

To read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today for either the digital copy or the printed version.

The BMC Experience Issue 17. Apr-Jun 2016 Magazine


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