In the line of fire

Damien Scott and Stan Kneeshaw PIC: Justin Whitelock
Damien Scott and Stan Kneeshaw PIC: Justin Whitelock

Old dog, new pup, Damien Scott stands tall next to Stan Kneeshaw.

When Stan joined the fire brigade in 1953, there were no water tankers in Ballarat.

He'd ride his push bike to the scene.

His fireman clothes were sewn by his mother.

And when the fire burned bright and big, he'd charge into the flames without a second thought.

"The chap up the road was at me to join the brigade from the age of 14," he said.

A life member of Ballarat Fire Brigade, Stan retired twice before they finally took his pager in 2009.

The CFA is an inherent gene in the Kneeshaw bloodline.

Stan's father a brigade member of Glen Park, his wife Ruth, the president of the Ballarat Women's Auxiliary and his four children have all joined the CFA.

The 81-year-old, a fount of knowledge for the Ballarat Fire Brigade, played a vital role in educating the modern generation of firefighters.

Like many young boys, Damien Scott had his sights on becoming a firefighter.

His father was a firefighter in Geelong and, by 18, Damien had joined Highton Fire Brigade as a volunteer.

In 2005, he moved to Ballarat with his wife and joined the Ballarat Fire Brigade.

As a lieutenant at Ballarat, he often clocks up more than 40 volunteer hours a week.

"Every boy wanted to be a firefighter as a kid. I wanted to be a firefighter to help the community," Damien said.

"My father was in Geelong City Fire Brigade. He used to tell me he'd get on his bike, like Stan.

"The senior members are vital, they introduce you to brigades, how things are done. They're a lot of history.

"When I was voted into this brigade, the captain said 'you only get out of this brigade what you put in'. It's funny what you remember."

Damien commutes to Melbourne Airport each day and works as an aviation firefighter, responding to all incidents in and around aircraft and Commonwealth land surrounding the airport.

However, the fires burned brighter in Stan's era, before modern utilities and occupational health and safety standards entered the CFA.

"We had a lot of big fires in that day because you had no water on the tankers. You had to get the hose to the hydrant," Stan said.

"When you went to a fire in those days you would have to hook up the hose in the middle of the night when no one in the town was using the water . . . you'd need four men to hold the hose straight because the pressure was so strong, otherwise off you went."

Once the pager called, firies would beeline to the scene in cars, trucks, and in Stan's case, a push bike.

"One fella had an ute, another had a car, the rest of us used to ride our push bikes to fires," Stan said.

"I used to be able to keep in front of the Buninyong bus. I was off like a bat out of hell when the pager went."

The fires that burnt at the Pennyweight Park tip year-round was one of Ballarat's false alarm hotspots.

"The York Street residents would call us and rats would be running everywhere. All we did there was spray them with the hose," Stan said.

Fire equipment was mostly homemade, with love and care.

"We were given a fire helmet. The rest of it was our own clothes, with a red stripe sewn on by my mother," Stan said.

"Today they all have all you can see. The young ones just laugh at ya, they wouldn't imagine doing that these days."

Then there was the blaze at Leigh Creek Hotel in the early 1970s that made Stan's heart skip three beats.

"My mate and I were down the passageway and watched the fire run down grooves of the pine-lined ceiling," he said.

"Next thing we hear this loud hissing sound. The owner comes over and he said 'don't worry, it's only the gas bottles out the back'.

"It snowed that day."

Of course, no fire was doused until a beer was downed.

"The old Ballarat Fire Brigade Hotel, when you went to the fire you'd get a token for a single beer and a couple of shillings," Stan said.

In stark contrast to Stan's career, attitudes towards safety were slightly more lax.

"OHS in Stan's day didn't exist. These days it's a lot smarter in the way we fight fires, we're more aware of the dangers, we don't take risks," Damien said.

"The aim of the game is everyone comes home safe."

The fire that destroyed the Plaster Funhouse in February was a once in a year blaze, Damien said.

"The access into the building was limited and difficult. That played a big part in it," he said.

One momentous occasion shared by Stan and Damien was the day the priceless 1938 Dodge fire truck was revealed on the station's 150th anniversary in 2006.

Thousands of fundraised dollars went into one of Ballarat Fire Brigade's original vehicles.

"I bought the Dodge for $1. When I first saw it I could have taken it straight to the tip," Stan said.

"We got the bell once we finished the car. It took 11 years to finish."

The traditional firefighting fire hose-running events have continued from Stan's time to Damien's.

Competition running was to demonstrate the skills of a brigades and the Ballarat crew competed in Tasmania and Western Australia.

"When I first joined there was 153 teams in Victoria. There's only 64 now," Stan said.

"If we weren't interested in running, we weren't interested in the fire brigade.

"The events have been running since the 1870s. It's fair dinkum -  43 teams arrived in Ballarat by train with their band.

"We had a reel 340 foot of hose, a branch and a hydrant and you'd have to connect them and run the hose.

"I ran hydrant."

Damien said the role of a volunteer was powered by passion for the job.

"You get a lot out of helping the community and teaching the kids about fire safety," he said.

"The reward is that you are going to help someone in their time of need.

"People get that feeling when you're on scene that everything is going to be OK."

One principal within the Ballarat Fire Brigade had remained unchanged, Damien said.

"If the community calls the fire brigade, the fire brigade will always come."


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