Willys Fire Trucks in Australia


Blue Mountains Bush Fire Jeeps

Rural Fire Service
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is the world's largest volunteer firefighting organization. It was formed in 1997 to provide a single command structure for the almost 2,000 rural fire brigades with a total volunteer membership of more than 76,000. This allowed the kind of massive firefighting response (150K JPEG) required when unusually large fires hit the Blue Mountains district in 2013. (AAP photo by Dan Himbrechts from 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires.)

Jamison Valley by David Iliff The Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in New South Wales -- in the world in fact. The Jamison Valley (2008 photo at right by David Iliff, under CC) was the starting point for one of the disastrous fires of 1957 which encircled Sydney, and devastated the town of Leura. (See the front page of The Sydney Sun from 2 December 1957, courtesy of the Blue Mountains Library.)

Fires like the one that destroyed Leura eventually led to the formation of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

1972This CJ-3B labelled as "BMCC Bush Fire Vehicle" was operated by the Blue Mountains City Council prior to the formation of the RFS. This slide taken in Katoomba (a mile west of Leura) in 1972 shows the Jeep with a Land Rover also carrying a sign saying "Bush Fire Control." See the full photo (600K JPEG) courtesy of the Blue Mountains Library. I would like to find more details or photos of this Jeep.

The right-hand-drive Jeep has a canvas water bag on the front, to keep drinking water cool by evaporation -- thanks to David Mercer for identifying that. It's difficult to see whether the Jeep is carrying any firefighting equipment.

Clipping circa 1957 Quite a collection of vehicles seen here, including a couple of jeeps and a Blitz truck. According to the caption on this undated newspaper photo, firefighters from seven brigades were assembling near Springwood, west of Sydney on the edge of Blue Mountains National Park.

John Scicluna who found the clipping said, "I'm thinking the photo was taken around 1957. There was a big firestorm then and the next in the area wasn't until 1977."

2017This 1943 Willys MB was used briefly by the Blaxland Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, established in the 1950s with support from the Blue Mountains City Council.

The military-surplus MB was already fairly ancient when the Brigade obtained it in February 1967 to serve as a personnel carrier and to pull a tank trailer with gas-driven pump, as Blaxland's second attack unit. The jeep was replaced only two years later by a short wheelbase ex-army Land Rover. This photo was taken at the 2017 Sydney Classic & Antique Truck Show, held at the Museum of Fire, Penrith.

Dapto NSW This appears to be an MB with some modifications including a roof designed for hot, sunny weather. The Dapto Bush Fire Brigade was formed in 1940, along the coast south of Sydney. Photo courtesy Mick Broomfield.

New South Wales Ambulance

NSW Ambulance
It was the NSW Ambulance Transport Service rather than the Fire Service which had the first dedicated rescue truck in Australia, and it was built on the Jeep Forward Control platform.

Q VanKnown as the Res-Q-Van or simply "Q Van", this 1961 Willys FC-170 served with the St. George-Sutherland District of Sydney, and has now been restored and preserved as part of the New South Wales Ambulance historical collection.

See more photos and details of the The Q Van.

Country Fire Authority Jeep Trucks

The Country Fire Authority in the state of Victoria was formed in 1945 to manage bushfire suppression across the state, and now comprises over 1,200 fire brigades.

1957 simulationFrom 1956 until 1984 the CFA employed a number of unique Willys tanker trucks in the protection of lives and property across Victoria.

This composite photo created for CJ3B.info shows one of the CFA's Willys tankers as it might have looked in 1957. This particular truck is now on permanent loan from the CFA to the Fire Services Museum in East Melbourne. It's actually on the CFA reserve list and can be called back into service.

CFA photo 1956Keith Pakenham of the CFA told CJ3B.info in 2013, "Fifteen Hurricane-powered Willys tankers were produced for the CFA in 1956, with a BSA pump and a 180-gallon water tank. In 1965, 15 Tornado-powered 17B Willys tankers were produced with a newer BSA pump and a 200-gallon water tank. These small 4WD tankers enabled crews to get in ahead of larger tankers to wildfires and knock the fire down quickly."

Photo courtesy CFA.

Kangaroo Groound This photo from Keith Pakenham shows a radio-equipped tanker with the volunteers at the original CFA Kangaroo Ground fire station, northeast of Melbourne.

Yellingbo KA94This example of the distinctive and practical Willys fire truck design is proudly lettered for the village of Yellingbo, which Mike Kelly tells us is about 30 miles east of Melbourne.

See also another Yellingbo unit (70K JPEG) pulling a pump trailer. The photos were found by Wayne Ellard.

CFA postcardA postcard, No. 2 in a series of "Historic Fire Fighting Vehicles" from the CFA, shows their "Willys Jeep Type 14 Tanker." Thanks to Ross Brealey.

A 1973 brochure produced by the CFA includes photos of Jeep trucks in the 1960s. The brochure describes the dramatic and successful battle against bushfires by volunteer fire fighters. Photos include a Willys truck in action and a Willys truck and a larger tanker in the grasslands. Thanks to Ted Robinette.

See also a photo showing the mobilization of resources to fight a fire in Benalla in 1968 (15K JPEGs).

BushfireAnother composite picture created for CJ3B.info shows a 1955 Willys L6 truck owned by John Keane. Formerly with the CFA Brigade in Ballarat, Victoria, this truck was purchased by John in 1977, with only 13,000 miles on the clock.

1966 Gladiator Keith Pakenham of the CFA told CJ3B.info that the CFA had 15 Gladiator-based tankers built in 1966. Equipped with 45A Briggs & Stratton pumps and 280-gallon tanks, they were in use until 1984 when the last one was sold off.


Vaughn Becker provided this photo captioned "Gladiator J-3700 Fire Fighting Unit, list price chassis and cab: $3948. Pump driven either by PTO or separate motor." This photo and a similar DRW J-3800 for $4248 (70K JPEG) courtesy of Mick Broomfield, show that the configuration was very similar to the earlier tankers -- basically just a flatbed platform with pump and tank.

1982 Gladiator An updated prototype based on the new J-series truck was later tested by the CFA as a replacement, but apparently did not result in further orders. The truck was still referred to as a 1.4 tanker, meaning 1000 liter capacity and 4-wheel drive. This CFA photo archived by the Keysborough Fire Brigade shows testing of the prototype in 1982.

1982 Gladiator Keith Packenham also found this photo showing the Type 1.4 prototype at Halls Gap, Victoria during testing. As of 2018 this truck belongs to Tim Kennedy in Melbourne, but it no longer has the tank on the rear.

Willys Commando

Monbulk Santa (just visible at the top) comes to Monbulk, east of Melbourne, sometime during the 1960s. Geoff Lynch says Don Fleming, Captain in Monbulk at the time, is seen here driving the Willys Commando. The newspaper photo was found by Timbo Paulio.

Melton 1970This later photo of the same Commando was supplied by Keith Packenham, who says: "CFA only had one front-mounted pumper and it was fully imported from America. It was a 1962 which was used at Monbulk fire brigade in the Dandenong Ranges just outside Melbourne, until 1970 when it was transferred to Melton to be used for another three years. It was then sold in 1973."

Front pump Willys An Australian factory photo suggests that the example above was not the only Commando imported -- although perhaps it had three different sirens mounted during its brief career with the CFA. See also a right side view (190K JPEG). Photos taken by Brian Chirlian & Co. Commercial Photographers in Sydney, courtesy Vaughn Becker.

Willys Australia advertised the Commando in a brochure showing their vehicle line (310K JPEG)

Front pump WillysWayne Ellard found this picture but doesn't have any information on the truck shown -- anybody know where this was taken? See also a side view (30K JPEG).

Queensland Willys Pumpers

Queensland Fire
Rural Fire Service Queensland is the volunteer arm of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, originally established as the Queensland Fire Service in 1990. RFSQ has some 35,000 volunteers in 1500 brigades, covering 93% of the state.

Smoke From the front, this open-cab Queensland pumper looks similar to the U.S.-built Willys Commando (above), but without the front-mounted pump. Thanks to Mick Broomfield and Willys Australia for the undated photo, taken at a grassfire in Tewantin, on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.

Noosa Members of the Noosa Fire Brigade welcome the truck to Tewantin in this 1961 shot. No hose installed on the booster reel yet. Another angle shows it pulling a trailer (200K JPEG) which appears to carry a large gasoline-powered pump and may previously have been their primary piece of apparatus.

Noosa The pumper served the Noosa Shire, a Sunshine Coast resort and surfing area, where it's seen testing its two 2-1/2" lines over the Noosa River in 1971. The booster reel had been moved to the left side by this point.

After its stint at Tewantin the pumper would be sent a little further inland to Cooran. In the late 1980s it ended its career as a service vehicle travelling to various stations.

Photos by the Griffiths Studio, courtesy of the Noosa Library Service.

Muttabura front The design of these Queensland pumpers actually owes little to the Commando, other than the chassis with 6-226 engine and open cab, referred to by Willys Motors as cowl/windscreen (C/WS).

This example is seen in the small cattle town of Muttaburra in central Queensland. Vaughn Becker, who sent the photo, provided this background: "The Queensland Government supplied a number of these units to small rural towns about 1961. The trucks left the Willys Brisbane factory as cab/chassis and were converted in Brisbane prior to being put into service throughout the state."

Muttabura rear

The rear-mounted pump, central stowage for the hard suction hose, and overhead ladder rack, result in a body with very clean lines, and storage compartments for lots of gear. The trucks reportedly had an 88-gallon aluminum tank and O'Hare pump, and carried 800 feet of 2-1/2" hose. The bodies were built by Enoggera Motor Body Works.

Biggenden This Queensland pumper survived in Biggenden, a thousand kilometers east of Muttabura, as of 1997. Unusual is its booster reel position on the left side. Biggenden is a mining and agricultural town north of Brisbane. Photo by Graham Kircher.

Nerimbera This engine is lettered for Nerimbera, near the Queensland coast. David Yates took this photo when he saw it in nearby Rockhampton, and says it appeared to be all original except the PTO-driven pump had been replaced with a Honda pump. The booster reel has been moved to the rear, or perhaps the truck never had a ladder. The triangle logo on its door indicates it was still in service when that logo was adopted in 1979.

Taroom Car 1, seen in a delivery photo, was the first piece of apparatus for the new fire brigade at Taroom in 1961. Like Noosa Car 1, there is no booster hose installed yet.

See also a front view photo (100K JPEG). Photos courtesy of Mick Broomfield.

Taroom Two years later, Graham Hendry, Stan Stone, Ken Scott, Ron Hendry and Graham Becker posed with Car 1 when the new Taroom fire station was opened on 31 October 1964. The brigade had installed a basket on top for rolled hose, a practical addition becase these pumpers did not have a great deal of space for hose storage.

The Willys was later supplemented by a larger Bedford fire engine in 1966. See also a 1964 front view (280K JPEG). Photos courtesy Graham Becker, via Vaughn Becker.

St. George St. George in southern Queensland received their Car 1 in factory white paint. It was photographed in July 1962 with its booster hose installed, but no suction hose, as seen in a rear view (100K JPEG).

Thanks to Ross Hunter for the photo from the Queensland State Archives.

Ipswich The number of pockets for suction hose on these engines varies from two, up to six in the case of IFB16 of the Ipswich Fire Brigade. See also a left side view (70K JPEG).

Yellow A few of the pumpers were delivered with a closed cab. This example, advertised for sale in 2017, is a cab and chassis 6-230, delivered in 1965 to Warwick Fire Brigade, west of Brisbane.

Another closed cab survivor was restored and used to promote a veterinary practice (120K JPEG) in Springfield, on the outskirts of Brisbane.

Dash The red interior (250K JPEG) indicates the truck did not originally have yellow paint. The label beside the speedometer reads "This vehicle not to exceed..... by order Chief Officer," but someone has removed the maximum figure!

See also the serial number (60K JPEG). Photos by Brendan Postlethwaite.

Leigh Cole photo This truck carries QFS Fleet No. 401 on its dashboard, but where it served is unknown. It's owned by Leigh Cole, who as of 2020 was planning a restoration. Serial number (60K JPEG) 55168 23879L indicates a 1961 cab and chassis 6-226, delivered in Australia in April 1963. See also a front view (200K JPEG).

The storage compartments are larger than they appear; the center door here is labelled Axe/Beater/Rake/Hoe. The booster reel (80K JPEG) carries the logo "WB".

South Australia

South Australia CFS
The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) responds to bushfires, building fires, road crash rescue and hazardous material spills across the State. It comprises 13,500 volunteers and 425 brigades, operating a fleet of over 800 trucks.

J-3800 The J-trucks were more widely adopted by South Australia than by other states, with apparatus bodies built by local firms. At least 27 Jeeps are listed in the archives of the CFS Promotions Unit.

Willys advertised this "J-3800 Fire Fighting Unit, dual rear wheels, self-contained tanker with optional power take off or industrial engine driven pump, $6848." It's not clear where the apparatus body for this unit was built. Photo courtesy Vaughn Becker.

Myponga Myponga is on the coast just south of Adelaide. Their Unit 64 was a 1968 J-3000 with a 1,360 liter tank and a pump powered by a Briggs & Stratton 9hp engine. It was built by Tosold Motors, apparently located in Naracoorte near the Victoria border, about halfway from Adelaide to Melbourne. Photo by Steve Schueler.

Elliston This Elliston District J-3000 was a slightly later build by Tosold, and was in service from 1970 to 1988. Although the rear body enclosure was larger, the 1200-liter tank was slightly smaller than the units above. Photo from the CFS Promotions Unit collection.

J-20 South Australian stations continued to put Gladiators in the field in the 1980s. The apparatus design and equipment was more advanced, although they were still using portable pumps, unlike the J-20s being built at the time by Mills-Tui in New Zealand. Morphett Vale's 1985 J-20 was built by Carey Gully Engineering (80K JPEG) just outside Adelaide. Another firm manufacturing apparatus in the Adelaide suburbs was A.J. Stock in Holden Hill.

Morphett Vale 14 initially had call sign 66, but was reassigned as 14 from 1990-99. It had twin booster reels, 900 liters of water, and a Darley/Briggs & Stratton pump. Photo by Steven Schueler.

See more Jeep Gladiator Fire Trucks on CJ3B.info.

Department of Civil Aviation, Airport Fire Service

Airport Fire Service
The "Presha" Airfield Light Rescue Tender (LRT) was a conversion by Presha Engineering of Melbourne, of the Jeep FC-170 Forward Control truck built by Willys Australia. Although Presha aimed their vehicles at Asian markets, the little rescue truck was also sold to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) for Australian airports.

Presha ZAA 569 The Presha truck had a 175-lb. (80kg) dry chemical extinguishing system with two 100-ft. hoses, as well as a portable 20-lb. dry powder extinguisher. But its primary role was to get people out of airplanes; it carried two high-speed rescue saws and two 11-inch floodlights, plus other rescue equipment including hydraulics.

This DCA truck is the same one seen in a Presha sales brochure (160K JPEG) found by J-C Guerry.

Presha light tender This factory photo shows a brand new Presha LRT with its floodlights still covered by plastic. It carries a ground ladder on an overhead rack, a feature not found on the Airport Fire Service trucks.

Ladder drill It seems surprising that the DCA didn't order the trucks with a ladder rack, given that their primary role was crash rescue. An Airport Fire Service team is seen here conducting a ladder drill, and apparently the ladder arrived on the larger Thornycroft tender. Possibly with the smaller size of aircraft in the 1960s it was felt that ladders would not normally be needed.

Hobart airport With the compartments open on this Presha LRT of the fire and rescue fleet (300K JPEG) at Hobart Airport in Tasmania, the reason it was known as "the saw truck" is obvious.

A closer look at the saw compartment (210K JPEG) reveals the Bosch cutter and 50ft. (16.5m) power cable. The saws, and the floodlights with 300ft. (99m) cables, ran on a PTO-powered generator.

Photo courtesy of Mick Goodrick.

Presha rear The Presha did have a firefighting component. The 175lb. (80kg) load of dry chemical powder was pressurized by two CO2 tanks, and supplied two hoses located in the side compartments. There was also a 20lb. hand extinguisher.

Sydney airport The little LRT is dwarfed by the big fire tenders at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport in the late 1960s. This particular FC-170 had an varied career after it was decommissioned by the DCA.

Martyn Kiellor, Inspector with the Sutherland Rural Fire Service, says, "It was purchased by the Shire of Sutherland and utilised as a mobile refuelling unit (40K JPEG) carrying various fuels and parts, by the Heathcote Brigade (110K JPEG)."
Martyn also comments, "The vehicle was a LH to RH-drive conversion, which resulted in the steering wheel having a nasty offset (35K JPEG) in relation to the seating position. The vehicle was retired as a result of changing regulations that rendered the carriage of bulk fuel impractical." The truck had its custom rear body removed (100K JPEG) for a third gig following its retirement from the fire service. It is now fully retired, and was bought in 1999 by Ted Robinette of the Willys Overland Club of Victoria. It has two data plates: Willys Motors serial no. 61568-21928 Willys Australia stock no. FC170-1017.

Alice Springs airport Not all airports employed a Presha rescue tender. At Alice Springs in October 1969, that role was filled by a Land Rover Light Rescue Vehicle. Other vehicles in this photo include a Thornycroft Nubian Large Fire Tender in the background, a Bedford Medium Fire Tender and a Willys "all-purpose fire/ambulance vehicle."

Photo courtesy of the Civil Aviation Historical Society.

Ambulance The Willys "all-purpose" vehicle (also visible in the Sydney and Hobart photos above) was based on the factory ambulance built by Willys Motors in the US. It was sold to the DCA without the ambulance fittings, in a form that could be used to carry either stretcher cases or firefighters and equipment. (See more details in Willys Ambulances in Australia on CJ3B.info.)

Thanks to all the contributors. -- Derek Redmond

See also Willys Ambulances in Australia.

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Last updated 25 March 2022 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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