History of the CFS

The SA Country Fire Service (CFS) evolved from a long and complex partnership between volunteers, local government and the South Australian government to meet community safety needs. The partnership began as an attempt to deal with fires in rural areas.

In colonial times, government focus was on the control of wildfire by legislating against the careless use of fire. The first legislation was the 1847 ordinance against reckless burn offs of stubble and grass.

Firefighting was left to local residents who would band together to fight fires as they arose, without any formal organisation or authority to set back burns.

In 1913, the government gave Councils the right to appoint Fire Control Officers. Fire Control Officers had the power to do anything "necessary or expedient and practicable" to:

  • prevent fires
  • protect life and property in case of fire
  • control or extinguish a fire including back burning.

Technological expansion after the Second World War revolutionised rural firefighting with the development of:

  • radios
  • telephones
  • motor transport
  • the knapsack spray.

Rural residents also began to form local or district firefighting associations.

Later, as part of the Second World War effort, the government established and equipped volunteer Emergency Fire Service (EFS) Brigades. These were established in Adelaide first and later in some country areas.

After the war, the government lent equipment from these groups to District Councils for rural firefighting work. An Emergency Fire Services operation within the Police Department was formed to supervise the program.

Gradually the main local council brigades began to feel part of a state-wide service.

From the mid-1950s the EFS organisations grew stronger and volunteers began to campaign for EFS to be established as a statutory authority. In 1976, the government passed the Country Fires Act, which set up the SA Country Fire Service (CFS).

By that time, CFS response had expanded beyond rural firefighting, into road accident rescue and general emergency response, especially in isolated areas where there was no other emergency service. These responsibilities expanded further in succeeding years and continue to do so, incorporating training and equipment in:

  • hazardous materials clean up
  • Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus (CABA)
  • structure fire behaviour and firefighting
  • high angle rescue and cave rescue.

In 1989, the State Government revised the SA Country Fires Act and Regulations. This enabled it to develop a standardised service that could respond quickly to emergencies across South Australia rather than the individually run local services.

In the late 1990´s, the South Australian Government made further changes to ensure the CFS was properly equipped. It made major changes to funding for the CFS and combined the administration of the service with several other emergency services. The CFS still stands fundamentally on the commitment and energy of its volunteers.

The State Government proclaimed the SA Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 on 1 October 2005. This supersedes the Country Fires Act as the governing legislation for the SA Country Fire Service. 

Julie-Ann Ellis has written a more in depth history of the SA Country Fire Service in her book Tried by Fire (The story of the South Australian Country Fire Service).

For information regarding bushfire history in South Australia, visit Bushfire History.