From The Rocks to Romsey

In many places around the world, fire appliances can be easily identified by their bright red colours and for many people, their first exposure to a heavy vehicle is through seeing a fire engine. 

With all states and territories in Australia having their own firefighting organisations in both city and regional areas, a diverse range of firefighting trucks and vehicles from many manufacturers have had a presence over the years. But custom fire appliance manufacturers are somewhat of a rarity today.

Dennis Brothers Limited of Guildford in England, which had its origins in 1895, was one such custom appliance builder, with a number of Dennis models being put into service in various parts of Australia as far back as the 40s.

One of those was the Dennis F49 from the early 70s, with three F49 units purchased by the New South Wales Fire Brigades (now Fire & Rescue NSW). After a working life in the Sydney city CBD, one of the three is now owned by Kyle Cozens, of Romsey in Victoria. 

Kyle had the Dennis pointed northwards once again to NSW recently, taking part in the 2024 Crawlin’ the Hume convoy from Melbourne to Albury and gave a background to his rare, and uniquely built truck.

“I’m a volunteer firie and I love fire trucks – I had seen this one in a museum in Cowra previously and they were having a clear-out of all their stuff, so it came up at auction and I bought it in a terrible condition in 2016,” he explained.

“I got it restored and on the road in 2019.”

The 1971 Dennis runs a Rolls-Royce P81 motor with an output of around 185hp, coupled to a 4-speed automatic transmission with the pumping gear on the back of the appliance driven off the motor. 

In the early 70s the NSW Fire Brigades took delivery of a number of Dennis appliances, the majority of which were the Dennis ‘Jag’, fitted with a Jaguar engine capable of pumping 600 gallons of water per minute, and three of the larger capacity F49s, with an output of 1000 gallons/minute were the largest appliances in the NSW Fire Brigade Fleet at the time.

Kyle Cozens with his restored fire appliance.

With the other two F49s based at Wollongong and Headquarters’ brigades, Kyle’s appliance was posted to The Rocks fire station in the Sydney CBD. 

“The Rocks in Sydney is ‘Station No.3’ and as this is one of the biggest pumpers they had it was known as ‘The Flyer’. It had to be first truck out the door within 30 seconds of an alarm – had to be ready, it was designed to get-up-and go,” he said.

Bringing the fire engine back to Victoria, Kyle had a bit of a job getting the Dennis back into shape given the construction materials used on the cab and body.

“Basically, it’s a metal chassis with a wooden-framed cabin and body with tin and fibreglass shaped over the top,” he said. “All the back with the storage lockers and so forth were made of plywood which had rotted away along with some of the door frames so to all had to be rebuilt.”

The restored Dennis is kitted out with some of the ‘tools of the trade‘ including hose lengths, a ladder and portable fire extinguishers. 

An onboard tank also holds approximately 100 gallons of water; however, Kyle does not get the truck hooked up with water running through the pump on a regular basis. 

“We did try and run the pump, but she blew the radiator hoses off – she got pretty hot! A 1000 gallons (approximately 4500 litres) per minute is a fair bit of water,” he said.

The pump on the back of the Dennis is built to handle 1000 gallons of water a minute.

With a somewhat healthy appetite for fuel, the Dennis does not get out and about as much as other historic trucks and given it was built for a specific work purpose it does not possess what many would consider a favourable driving environment, with the Dennis lacking a few creature comforts.

“It will take five in the cab, with the bench seat in the back – it’s meant for firefighters to get in it and go.

“The motor has a fixed fan on it so it is incredibly noisy inside as you drive along -it will get up to 100k’s but it only has a fibreglass cowling in the cab so you are virtually sitting beside the engine as you drive along.”

The Dennis was making its second appearance at Crawlin’ the Hume, with Kyle’s father Jeff also making the trek in a customised Kenworth C500. The other major trip undertaken was a run back up to Sydney for the Historic Fire Engine Association’s 50th anniversary in 2019.

At the Winton lunch stop Kyle was dipping the tanks to ensure the Rolls-Royce had enough fuel to get it up the remainder of the old Hume Highway to the overnight stop at Albury. 

“She’s pretty thirsty, running on unleaded it will burn around 30 litres an hour. Coming up on a longer trip like this today it has had a few bits and pieces rattling on it – it’s a city truck, it’s not really meant for comfort.

“But it’s rare; there is another one of these in Darwin and another one that I know of down in Tasmania that isn’t running, so this is the only one I know of still running out on the road.”

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