In the early days of fire fighting in colonial New Zealand the biggest obstacle was the lack of what we modern town dwellers today mostly take completely for granted, that being water pipes with mains pressure. So bucket brigades were the way to go, from the nearest water tank or horse trough, followed later by hose reels with manual water pumps hauled by men or horses … or both! It wasn’t until around the 1860s that steam driven pumps finally arrived with the early adopter Dunedin Brigade importing the first of these in 1865.
In the early 1900s motorised fire engines began to appear, with the Wanganui Fire Brigade importing Australasia’s first self-propelled steam driven fire engine and pumper in 1903. It was at this historical juncture, following the Fire Brigades Act of 1906, that the modern professional and volunteer fire brigade service we know and trust today began to take form. By the 1920s most of New Zealand’s fire brigades were fully motorised with many transitioning over to petrol powered internal combustion engines and pumps.
And with this historical introduction I would like to introduce you to the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade in their finest dress uniforms proudly assembled around their 1938 Dennis Ace Pumper – a fire engine known fondly to its many admirers around the world as ‘The Flying Pig’! Built at the Dennis Brothers’ Guildford factory in the UK, the Dennis Ace used a 3770 cc side valve petrol engine with four speed gearbox, bevel pinion diff, and hydraulic brakes on a two ton lorry chassis with a setback front axle. The prominent front forward engine mounting and bonnet, or ‘snout’, allowed for tight turns around tighter city blocks and also gave the appliance its porcine nickname.
Featuring two hose lockers up top with enclosed storage lockers on the running boards, and brackets for three scaling ladders on top of the hose box, the Dennis Ace could fit two firefighters up front with another eight in the back. The onboard water pump could push 350 Imperial Gallons or 1600 litres per minute under high pressure making this one of the most efficient and popular fire fighting appliances in the world at the time.
Being such an iconic fire engine, the Flying Pig saw service for several decades with some brigades not letting theirs go until the 1970s. The Lyttelton Brigade’s Dennis Ace DV 3436 performed valiantly for many years before being retired to a paddock in favour of the ever newer, faster, and more technologically proficient appliances used by the brave men and women of today’s Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade.