Dennis Big 6 Fire Engine (1939) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Dennis Big 6 Fire Engine (1939)

Item details

Name of item: Dennis Big 6 Fire Engine (1939)
Other name/s: No. 132 ME (within Museum of Fire)
Type of item: Movable / Collection
Group/Collection: Utilities - Fire Control
Category: Fire Control Objects (movable)
Location: Lat: -33.74774217 Long: 150.6933708
Primary address: 1 Museum Drive, Penrith, NSW 2750
Local govt. area: Penrith
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin


The SHR curtilage boundary is limited to the item itself and does not include the land it is located on or the structure it is housed within.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 Museum DrivePenrithPenrith  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Museum of FireCommunity Group 

Statement of significance:

The 1939 Dennis Big 6 (No. 132) is a fine example of the Dennis Motor appliances of the 1930's & 1940's. Its rarity as the largest and most powerful of the Dennis appliances, as well as being the only specimen of its type brought to, and used in, NSW, makes it an outstanding and unique specimen. Although it has undergone some restoration, a photographic record has been kept of its original condition. It is held in high esteem by fire engine enthusiasts because it was regarded as the flagship of the service during its time as Headquarters Runner. This regard was evidenced by the fact that it was always boarded by a senior officer, up to and including the Deputy Chief Officer. It is also held in esteem because it was utilised as the Brigade Coffin Bearer at brigade funerals, as well as for processions and ceremonial purposes. The esteem in which it is held is evidence by the maintenance work carried out by fire engine enthusiasts and volunteers at the Museum of Fire, Penrith, where it is now on exhibition. The Big 6 demonstrates, and is an important part of, the progressive development of the NSW Fire Brigades' firefighting techniques, technologies, equipment and control - in particular, the development of its pumping appliances. It demonstrates the Brigade's endeavours to cope with new demands and challenges brought about by a growing and developing City of Sydney. During its history, it has only ever been owned by the NSW Fire Brigades.
Date significance updated: 19 Oct 05
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Chassis - Dennis Bros Pty Ltd, Guildford, England; Body – NSW Fire Brigades workshops.
Builder/Maker: Chassis - Dennis Bros Pty Ltd, Guildford, England; Body – NSW Fire Brigades workshops.
Construction years: 1939-1939
Physical description: The 1939 Dennis Big 6 (No. 132 ME) consists of a Dennis chassis (No. 3002 and an 8 litre \ 6 cylinder \ 115 bhp Meadows 6EX-A engine (NO. 75107). The pump is a Tamini centrifugal type with capacity of 800 gpm. The body is of a Braidwood type and was constructed by the brigade workshops. The cabin is an open type, with seating for the driver and officer in charge. At the rear of the appliance, there is provision for ten (10) portable, hand-operated extinguishers, four (4) standard branches and hydrant gear. The pump is also situated at the rear of the appliance which incorporates both pressure and compound gauges. On each side of the appliance, there is a running board, suction hose (3 x lengths – total), and storage compartments for hose and equipment. More storage compartments are located under the running boards on either side. On the driver’s side, there is a spare wheel adjacent to the driver, and a large branch and foam generator attached to the running board. On the officer’s side, is a siren and adjustable spotlight. On the top of the appliance is a water monitor, four (4) scaling ladders and a thirty (30) foot Pretoria ladder. Brass railings are fitted down each side behind the side seating where the fire crew sits.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical Condition – Excellent
Archaeological Potential - Low
Date condition updated:29 Jul 04
Modifications and dates: Circa 1940 – Windscreen added.
1944 – Amal Mechanical fuel pump replaced by electric pump (18/8/1944).
1949 – Pyrene Foam Branch canister and fittings removed and replaced by a No. 10 Pyrene Mechanical Foam Generator with necessary fittings. (15/9/1946)
1945 – Completely repainted.
1950 – Originally, the mud guards projected 5 inches below the tail board. It was suggested by report dated 29/5/1950, from 3 Station, The Rocks, that “…this projection be removed and the mudguards made to finish flush with the tailboard…” This was to prevent them being damaged by contact with the kerbstone when arriving at or leaving the station. The job was completed on 11/9/1950. Post 1950 – Mounting for Pretoria Ladder fitted.
1964 – Safety Belts fitted (18/11/1964).
2004 – Fully restored by Museum of Fire, Penrith
Current use: Storage / Research / Exhibition
Former use: Fire Fighting Appliance


Historical notes: The 1939 Dennis Big 6, 650/800 Pumper (No. 132) was purchased for £3184/5/5 from Dennis Bros Pty Ltd of Guildford, England. During the war years, the NSWFB was the biggest user of Dennis Fire appliances outside of the UK. “Vehicles acquired between 1934 and 1939 were almost exclusively Dennis motors. (FF 1984:177). It was usual for the appliance to arrive as a motor/chassis/pump combination, and for the body to be constructed and fitted with appropriate accoutrements by the brigade workshops, in order to suit local requirements and conditions. Between 1934 and 1939, 35 (4 cylinder) Dennis Aces were acquired for suburban stations. The other main group of Dennis fire engines were acquired in the late thirties. These were the Big 4’s, with 650 gpm centrifugal pumps and a foam tank. Ten of these appliances were placed at high risk locations. By far the largest of the Dennis appliances of this era was the Big 6.

This was a “one off” appliance, which was used at all major fires. It was initially installed at No. 1 Stn, Headquarters on 27/5/1940 as the Running Appliance. Retired firefighter, Lewis Phillips, recalls the beginnings of his career: After joining the permanent brigade, I was stationed at Headquarters….. My first impression of Headquarters was that it was very drab. The fire engines and all their brass work were painted khaki for camouflage purposes in case of bombing raids…. The Running Motor No. 132 was the flagship of the service, so called because it always turned out with a Senior Officer on board. Even the Deputy Chief Officer would turn out on this” (LP 1995:5).

On 17th November, 1948, The Governor of NSW, Lieutenant-General J. Northcott inaugurated the Brigade’s Radio Tele-Communication System. The Big 6 was one of, (if not the), first fire appliances to be fitted with two way radio communication. A photo of the inauguration event shows the Governor seated in the Big 6, testing the new equipment, with Deputy Chief Officer Gerald Condon standing by. On 12/5/1950, the Big 6 was moved to No. 3 Stn, The Rocks. Whilst at this location, it was, at the instigation of Sub Station Officer J. Meeve (Report: 29/5/50), modified by shortening the mudguards to prevent possible damage being caused by their contact with the kerbstone when arriving at and departing the station. On 12/4/1954, the Big 6 was returned to Headquarters to serve as the 2nd Call appliance until when, some time prior to 1962; it was once again repositioned - this time to No. 38 Stn, Pyrmont.

It remained at Pyrmont until 14/6/1967, when it was placed at the Training College to be utilised as a training vehicle. In his report (dated 8/6/1967) to the Board, Chief Officer Lowther stated that, it is considered desirable that No. 132 Motor Engine be placed at the Training College. The reason stated was, No. 132 appliance is used for processions and other ceremonial purposes and its being at the Training College would ensure that it was in good condition and ready for use at all times.” In connection with Chief Officer Lowther’s comments, the Big 6 was used as a funeral vehicle as a coffin-bearer at Brigade funerals. Retired firefighter, Edward Easton, recalled that: A Dennis Big 6, the only one of its kind in the service, was installed at Headquarters. In later years, it served another role as the brigade’s coffin bearer.” (EE 1995:6). The appliance was modified for this purpose. A wooden platform was placed beneath where the ladders are stowed and four sets of brass bars were fitted, to hold the coffin securely. These fittings were removable to allow for the appliance’s other function as a training pumper.

The Big 6 was withdrawn from service in August, 1974 (FF 1984:187), and was presented to the Museum of Fire for storage in 1985. In 2004, it was fully restored and placed on exhibition at the Museum of Fire, Penrith.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The 1940 Dennis Big 6 (No. 132) demonstrates the progressive development of the Brigade’s firefighting techniques, technologies, equipment and control – in particular, pumping appliances. This development is an ongoing attempt to cope with new demands and challenges brought about by a growing and developing City of Sydney. The appliance is part of this process and demonstrates the Fire Brigade’s endeavours to deliver adequate fire protection in the mid 20th Century.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Big 6 was considered to be the flagship of the service. This was demonstrated by the fact that it always turned out with a senior officer on board. It was used for processions and ceremonial purposes. The esteem in which it was held then, continues today, among firefighters and fire engine enthusiasts. This is evidenced by the regular maintenance work carried out by volunteers at the Museum of Fire, Penrith where the appliance is now on display. It is also held in esteem because of its association with Fire Brigade funerals in the capacity of Coffin Bearer.
SHR Criteria f)
This appliance is the only one of its type brought to Australia. Its history of service with the NSW Fire Brigades is well documented. It was the largest and most powerful Dennis fire engine purchased by the Brigade during the “Dennis era” of the 1930’s and early 1940’s when vehicles acquired by the brigade were almost exclusively Dennis appliances.
SHR Criteria g)
The Dennis Big 6 is representative of the Dennis class of fire engines being produced and used by the NSWFB during the war years of the late thirties and early forties.
Integrity/Intactness: Restoration work such as rust removal and repainting, with mechanical work to bring the motor to a fully operational condition, has been carried out. The previous condition of the appliance was recorded photographically. The appliance would consist of approximately 85% original fabric.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0171803 Dec 04 1968690

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Museum Of Fire View detail
WrittenBoard of Fire Commissioners of NSW1941Annual Report for year 1940
WrittenBoard of Fire Commissioners of NSW-7Various reports – Motor Fire Engines (Maintenance & Repairs)
WrittenColin Adrian1984Fighting Fire
WrittenJohn Richards1995Oral History Interview of Lewis Phillips
WrittenJohn Richards1995Oral History Interview with Edward Thomas Easton
TourismTourism NSW2007Museum Of Fire View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055581

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