THEY lost two of their own and in the face of danger they battled the threat of more explosions as a deadly fire took hold.
But a group of eight Armidale men have been remembered for their bravery 80 years on from a blaze that was one of the most dangerous in the state’s history.
The original fire engine from 1932 was restored for yesterday’s service as dozens of relatives from the eight firefighters descended on Armidale.
It was a day filled with emotion for not only relatives but also the brigade as they looked back at the accident that claimed 20-year-old fireman Beresford Jones and father-of-six, 38-year-old fireman William Robinson.
The Armidale Fire Brigade was called to the Braund and Co general store on May 18, 1932 after a massive blaze broke out.
They knew there were explosives housed in the store, but Fire and Rescue NSW Armidale Station officer Wayne Zikan said his predecessors underestimated the haul.
“There was an explosion of detonators that killed the two firemen and wounded a third,” Mr Zikan said.
“Then there was a magazine full of gelignite and dynamite that they didn’t know of.”
Station officer Zikan said eight firefighters were awarded conspicuous bravery medals – an award that was set up in the wake of the tragedy – and remains the highest honour that can be awarded to firefighters.
The families of firemen Robinson and Jones were awarded posthumous medals.
“There was the threat of an explosion,” Mr Zikan said.
“They realised after the fire it (the explosives) would have been enough to level the town of Armidale.
“Still knowing that the dynamite was there and rather than taking the option of trying to get the hell out of there ... that needed to be recognised.”
Commissioner Greg Mullins joined the 50 or so relatives that travelled to Armidale for the special service to commemorate the eight men.
It was the first time they had all eight bravery medals together since they were awarded, with families from each of the firefighters bringing them in from interstate.
“It’s very significant and for the families – it’s a very big thing,” Mr Zikan said.
“It’s lovely for them to see that people that still look back at it.”
The service was held around a plaque which was erected at the fire station in 1933.
But locals also took a look back as historical items from the brigade were showcased in town.
Station officer Zikan said it wasn’t only the brigade that claimed the accident, it was a town story too.
“There is a lot of pride in the brigade – that it is our story and our brigade,” he said.
“No one has died since the accident ... but there’ll be a few wet cheeks round the place, especially with the relatives.”