In 1896, serious fires in NSW and Victoria were the catalyst for brigade formation. Berrigan in NSW claimed the honour of being the first brigade in Australia. The first official mention of the Berrigan Brigade is November 1900.
In 1906, a Local Government Act authorised local government councils to form bushfire brigades throughout the state, however until World War II, little progress was made. During World War II, Federal Government wartime security regulations required that the pace of the war effort be maintained. They imposed bush or rural fire prevention orders and set up a special Bush Fires (Emergency) Committee.
After World War II, this Committee formed the basis of the post-war Bush Fire Committee from 1945 onwards, which developed the legislation that became the Bush Fires Act in 1949. One of the most important provisions was, for the first time, a Bush Fire Fighting Fund from which local governments could purchase equipment for their brigades. The fund continues today with State and Local Governments and the insurance industry contributing.
In 1958, the first Fire Prevention Association was established, which was concerned with developing firebreak systems and other means of preventing fires on vacant Crown land.
In 1970, amendments to the Bush Fires Act took into account problems arising from so many statutory and voluntary organisations involved in firefighting. The Bush Fire Committee was reformed into the Bush Fire Council with representatives from all organisations involved (it originally had 25 representatives, which later increased to 27, and finally comprised to 16).
In 1990, the Department of Bush Fire Services was set up to administer the NSW Minister for Emergency Services' responsibilities under the Bush Fires Act. NSW Bush Fire Brigades changed to the NSW Bush Fire Service.
During December 1993 to January 1994, the most protracted and largest firefighting effort in Australian history with 20,000 firefighters deployed at over 800 fires throughout NSW.
Following a lengthy Coronial Inquiry into the fires of 1993-1994, the NSW State Government introduced legislation in September 1997, creating for the first time a single rural fire service with a single chain of command. The Rural Fires Act, 1997 was proclaimed in September.
Today, over 70,000 volunteer firefighters are formed into about 2,100 brigades in 143 rural fire districts. They fight fires in over 95 per cent of the State and are responsible for property protection in about 1,200 towns and villages.
Courtesy of the NSW Rural Fire Service Website