Our History


Over the years our members have attended a wide range of emergencies and calls for assistance from the Fire Service, other emergency organisations or the community. This is not a summary of all the calls attended, rather it's a sample to illustrate the variety of events at which the Unit has assisted.


Fatal Incidents

1941 - John Burns, Customs Street   Fire enveloped the upper floors, cutting off escape paths for many employees. One man died when he leapt from the flames, 19 others were rescued in commendable fire fighters' efforts. An Inquiry was held: the Brigade was largely exonerated but decided its own revised pre-determined responses to all alarms within the CBD: they continue until this day.

1942 - Kauri Timber Company, Freemans Bay   A blaze raced through the mill, timber stacks and joinery. One staff member did not get out in time. The Kauri timber burned with great heat and thick black smoke. 20 hoses played on it for some hours before it was under control.

1976 - Kingsland Bombs   Two people died after experimenting with explosives in their Kingsland workshop premises. Later determined it was "a device".

1979 - Triple Drowning   Unsuccessful search for 3 firefighters who went missing while fishing in their boat on the Firth of Thames. Search and canteen duties.

1984 - ICI, Mt Wellington   An employee lost his life in this 4th alarm-plus fire which spread through ICI's Riverview plant in Bowden Road. He was rescued from the burning warehouse but succumbed a few days later from his injuries. His rescue was only the beginning: the mix of chemicals combining as the result of the fire meant the atmosphere and water in the building was toxic, as were the fumes outside that spread in the light breeze across southern suburbs. The run-off killed fish and water life in the adjacent estuary. Many fire fighters and others who had been in contact with this cocktail, or who took in the fumes even on the periphery of the fireground, suffered long-term health effects leading to an Enquiry which recommended tighter controls of hazardous materials and revised fire service operations at these incidents. Later instituted.

1989 - Terwindle Rest Home, Herne Bay   6 elderly residents died when the villa-turned rest home was engulfed, raising concern (again) about fire protection in old people's homes which led to new requirements in all these institutions. This tragic call was also remembered because a traffic officer would not let the Fire Police Canteen Unit proceed past road blocks to access the fireground. This was sorted out when the Divisional Officer took it up with the cop on the spot and then again later when he dared turn up at the canteen for refreshments! The matter was fixed for the long term by fitting a red flashing light to the Canteen so there could be no mistake when it was approaching the fireground.

1993 - Symonds Street was centre of operations after Eagle, the police helicopter, collided in mid-air with a fixed wing traffic spotting plane, the debris crashing down on to a motorway. 4 people died. The resulting road closures grid-locked downtown Auckland, the jam spreading to inner suburbs, and beyond, during the evening peak hour. Fire Police assisted with traffic management, some members at distant intersections kilometres from the scene.

1999 - Fanshawe Street, Freemans Bay   3 men, overcome by what was thought to be carbon monoxide, died while working in a sewer. A colleague survived. Subsequent enquiries showed one man got into difficulties, his would-be rescuer investigated and succumbed - actions repeated by the third man who also died and fourth men who realised the dangers and got out just before he, too, was overpowered


Major Fires

1935 - Woolworths Downtown department store, totally involved. First incident where a new system of calling back-up appliances was used but, unrehearsed, it did not work too well. First major fire attended by Auckland Fire Police Corps after their formation.

1957 - Cotton Brothers Downtown rubber goods warehouse, well alight when the brigade arrived soon after midday: it took all afternoon for fire fighters to gain the upper hand.

1963 - Farmers Trading Co Bulk Store Fanshawe Street, City, this building had earlier been used as a cool-store and once flames got into cork insulation etc it proved difficult to put out. It was 20 hours before the Stop message went in, 20 hoses played on the premises, 32 fire fighters overcome/injured.

1965 - HM Prison, Mt Eden   Multiple fires deliberately lit by inmates as part of a major disturbance in the prison. After repeated bombardment by all kinds of weaponry, fire fighters withdrew to safety, abandoning their equipment.

1966 - Kings Wharf Power Station   Stubborn oil/electrical blaze which was soon extinguished once High Expansion Foam was used: it was the first time this had been used on a fire.

1970 - Blades Chemicals, Penrose   A cocktail of chemicals were on fire as well as Blades warehouse/factory causing a fumes alert in inner southern suburbs. The radiated hear was such it set fire to wooden power poles on the opposite side of the street.

1971 - Tank Farm, Freemans Bay   Explosion and fire in a tank of chemicals in the dangerous goods area on the waterfront. The explosion lifted the tank's lid nearly 100 meters dumping it on to the roof of a building. 3 firefighters commended for climbing up the side of the tank to establish a foam branch, thus reducing the chance of further explosion.

1971 - Sheepskin Rug Factory   This was a major fire in Penrose with 12 or more low pressure deliveries at work when it was decided to respond the brand new Snorkel aerial appliance from the yard at City Station where it was being fitted-out prior to its commissioning. It was driven to the call by an officer who had not been behind the wheel before but the appliance responded safely, was positioned and got to work "saving a very serious situation" as was described by the Deputy Chief, pleased to be able to successfully demonstrate his latest appliance!

1975 - Globe Chambers   Ironically the Swanson Street, City, headquarters for an insurance company, this building was racked by fire requiring all available city and suburbs resources to get the upper hand. After some hesitation, it was later demolished in the interests of public safety, the Fire Chief exercising his powers under the Fire Service Act.

1980 - Vita Foam, Avondale   A 4th alarm, first of 2 major fires at these premises over the years, this one was the biggest and trickiest to get under control. The flaming product etc provided a beacon which could be seen all over Auckland.

1982 - Farmers Department Store   The iconic city store had a run of fires and then a major one spreading between floors and causing massive heat, smoke and water damage. Despite the Fire Police's massive salvage operation, damage amounted to 3 million dollars. An electrician was later charged with multiple counts of arson.

1991 - Western Springs College   This was one of many serious school fires attended over the years, notable because the alarm was given during the Unit's monthly meeting. At first a small number of members was despatched and the meeting continued. A few more members were assigned when it went to a 2nd alarm. But when it escalated to a 3rd alarm, with the message that it may go to a 4th, the meeting was abandoned and most members went to the fire. Later it was alleged by a Senior Officer of the Fire Service that insufficient Fire Police were despatched to the call, to which there was a perfect defence . he was sent the long list of names with the (tongue in cheek) explanation that had he got the fire under control more rapidly the members were all there to conclude their interrupted meeting!!

2008 - Former Southdown Freezing Works   The early evening fire in the derelict freezing works rapidly spread through the rambling range of buildings comprising the former meatworks processing areas and cool-stores. Escalated to an unprecedented 6th Alarm-plus, the blaze at one stage was being fought from 7 aerial appliances (another first in Auckland) and ground monitors. The fire continued for 72 hours until demolition of upper floors enabled fire-fighters to get water on stubborn seats of fire. Standby appliances remained on the scene, Christmas Day and all, for one week after the initial call-out.



1978 - St Heliers Bay   A couple parked up on Achilles Point. He stepped out of the car to relieve himself. After a while she missed him and investigated. She heard his cries for help coming up from somewhere down the pitch-black cliff face. She raised the alarm and quickly departed. An hour later he was rescued by fire fighters and taken off to hospital. Fire Police delivered the expensive Mercedes to his home, and a very curious wife!

1990 - Petrol Tanker, Wiri Station Road, Manukau City   A petrol tanker setting out on its deliveries crashed with a car: the petrol tanker caught fire with one occupant of the car trapped underneath the blazing vehicle. A successful dramatic rescue followed and the fire was smothered with foam. But the petrol from the tanker had entered underground drains fanning out from the scene, some beneath the City Centre. The risk of explosion meant evacuating the shopping malls and civic centre at the height of busy Friday night shopping. Decorations for gallantry followed for those closest to the rescues.

1992 - Riverhead   2 horses stuck in the mud in a creek bed. No enticing could budge them. After some hours the horses' owner chartered a helicopter which pulled them out and landed them on firm ground. Pigs might fly: horses did!


Special Service

1973 - Parnell Fumes   The freighter "Good Navigator" discharged a cargo of drums of chemicals which were then transported to about 10 locations around Auckland. It was found the drums on the ship and wharf were leaking, subsequently some of the other transported containers were found in a similar state, all giving off fumes that nauseated and irritated people nearby. More than 600 persons went to hospital suffering the effects, dozens of fire fighters also required time off to recover. The chemicals were neutralised. This incident eventually led to changes in the law relating to the handling, transport and storage of hazardous materials.

1975 - Onehunga/Te Papa   A Tornado left a trail of damage to houses, factories and shops along the Manukau Harbour waterfront. Fire Service answered scores of calls to help with tarpaulins, making roofing iron etc safe, removing toppled trees and attending to risks to public safety.

1987 - Edgecumbe Earthquake   Auckland Fire Police responded a long way outside their usual boundaries when a crew took the Canteen as part of the Fire Service task force mobilisation to assist in the Bay of Plenty. The canteen was on site for almost a week providing meals to fire personnel and refreshments and hot water to residents who had lost utilities in the 'quake, and there was also assistance given with meals at the hospital.

1989 - Piha Scrub Fire   The Canteen was called very belatedly to this call in scrub-covered hills and steep farmland between Piha and Anawhata in the Waitakere Ranges. Fire fighting operations began early afternoon on that hot summer's day with fire fighters working in difficult terrain some kilometres away from base pumps and the canteen. For the first time light refreshments were delivered to crews by helicopter. As operations extended towards nightfall, hot meals prepared on the canteen were also airlifted to weary fire fighters.

1991 - Ardmore Plane Crash   The Unit was among those responded to a plane crash alongside Ardmore Aerodrome where a vintage Vampire jet had overshot the runway. The resident had apparently dialled 111 complaining "a war plane's crash landed in my garden taking out all the cabbages!!"

2003 - Waikumete Cemetery / Waitakere House Fire   Fire Police were assisting at a make pumps 6 scrub fire in the cemetery, a summer event almost every year. Canteen in attendance. Then another scrub fire was called in, further West at Opanuku Road in the Waitakere Ranges. Except that this was in fact a 3 storied house, well alight in a non-reticulated area. As soon as the scrubbie was under control the Canteen carried on up into the hills to what was by now the equivalent of a 4th alarm. The house was along a winding, narrow road in a non-reticulated area which, like the cemetery, was no exit. Members closed the road to all but locals so that water shuttle appliances travelling in and out were not blocked. And the canteen was stoked up again.

2003 - College Hill, St Marys Bay   The uncoupling of a petrol tank from its tractor unit before morning peak hour gave Fire Police a long-duration operation, closing the main Ponsonby - City route for more than 6 hours. The tank held 35,000 liters and one of its compartments was pierced as it crashed to the ground and rolled on its side, allowing some product to escape (mostly contained) and there was a small fire under the tank (quickly doused by first-arriving crews). Area foamed, covering High Pressure deliveries. The road closures which had caused havoc for morning commuters remained in place until early afternoon when all product was decanted, the tank hoisted out by crane and the area declared safe.

2004 - Mt Roskill
11/03/03 MVA, persons trapped, Mt Albert Road, near Huntingtree Avenue, Wesley.
05/04/03 MVA, persons trapped, Mt Albert Road, near Huntingtree Avenue, Wesley.
Yes, deja-vu for our members. Same bend, same recently re-planted power pole taken out, same coloured car involved, same11kva wires, not yet even permanently repaired, same just-replaced boundary fence damaged, same Mt Roskill Station crew attending, same traffic diversions put in by same Fire Police closing the same stretch of the busy road.


Inconvenient Calls

1975 - Herne Bay   It's a major emergency anytime a petrol tanker crashes, overturns and loses its load, down drains and into sewers, but this one occurred on the afternoon of, of all days, November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day. A Red Alert was declared as drains were flushed and pipes checked for petrol or fumes. Late afternoon it was clear there was still a risk of fire or explosion so Auckland's Fire Chief implored Herne Bay folk to delay lighting bonfires, setting off their fireworks, crackers and sky rockets for 24 hours until the problems had dissipated.

1993 - TAB, Mt Eden   A mishap with a petrol tanker refilling a Dominion Road service station resulted in product flowing across the forecourt into the gutter and down the drain. Fire Police helped cordon the area and closed busy Dominion Road to all traffic including pedestrians. We wondered why so many on foot were turned away until it was realised the local TAB was caught within the cordon, denying punters the opportunity to have a wager on the first race at Orari.

1994 - Mater Hospital, Epsom   Fire in the wards above an operating theatre did not deter the surgeon and his team . they continued with a heart operation that had reached the stage when they could not "close and evacuate". Fire fighters fought the fire above while others kept an eye out for fire spread in the ceiling. A crew (unscrubbed!) collected water which was cascading from the fire down the walls inside the theatre. The patient, of course, was oblivious to the situation and the unscheduled visitors attending the operation.

1998 - National Bank, City   The Shortland Street bank was evacuated after fumes issued from the air-conditioning ducts. Unfortunately the incident took place at 2pm on a Friday afternoon, just when the bank is usually at its busiest as the business community banks before the weekend and formalises overseas transactions. There was no way the bank would be cleared and reopen before closing time so a fleet of taxis were hired by the bank to ferry customers to other branches.

2002 - Great North Road, New Lynn is one of the main roads leading to Waikumete Cemetery. It also has a funeral director's chapel. The funeral service was well underway when there was a fatal car accident nearby and by the time the mourners were ready to go to the cemetery they found they were inside the cordon, unable to proceed. Fire Police made special arrangements to extricate the hearse and followers from the no-go zone and get them to the crematorium on time!