Vale Rex Threlfo – El Alamein veteran ran fire brigade and Union | #AusUnions #FRNSW

Rex Threlfo.El Alamein veteran ran fire brigade

REX THRELFO, 1924-2012

Rex Threlfo

Rex Threlfo … held a strong focus on media and public relations, especially education on fire safety. Photo: Supplied

Rex Threlfo didn’t plan to become a fireman but after joining the NSW Fire Brigades in 1946, he rose through the ranks to head the organisation as chief officer. Among other reforms, he paved the way for women to join the organisation.

In 1983, he gained board approval to change standing orders to ”firefighter” instead of ”fireman”. This, along with a physical test that maintained fitness standards without discriminating between genders, finally opened the service to women.

Threlfo also belonged to the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) and was elected president in 1957. Achievements during his nine-year term included an award for volunteer firemen in 1963, a campaign for compressed air breathing apparatus in 1963 and polycarbonate helmets to replace brass helmets in 1964.

Charles Rex Threlfo was born in Mullumbimby on February 25, 1924, son of Edgar and Irene Threlfo. Rex originally wanted to study law and joined a firm of solicitors after finishing school but enlisted in the army in 1941, at 17. He joined the 2/13th Infantry Battalion, known as the “Devil’s Own”, which became part of the 9th Division that rushed to Alamein in North Africa and he fought in the battle of El Alamein.

The 9th was recalled to Australia then sent to Milne Bay in New Guinea. The battalion was sent to Morotai in 1944 and captured the Lutong airfield and oil tanks then moved to Lobang, where it remained until the end of the war.

Threlfo was discharged in 1946 but no longer wanted to do law and applied for a course in quantity surveying. Then, in a pub in Petersham, he ran into three army mates who convinced him to join the NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue NSW). He decided he would ”give it a trial for six months”.

After marrying his sweetheart Mavis Doyle, Threlfo built his own home. Looking back on his career, he recalled his favourite time as a firefighter was two years at Stanmore, a busy fire station with ”a good group of people”. While there, he met Maurice Stolmack, an FBEU executive member, and Harry Evans, the union president. He joined the union executive and Evans suggested he stand for president in 1957.

Threlfo was promoted to district officer in 1966, forcing him to stand down as union president, but when he joined the Senior Officers Association, he insisted on remaining an FBEU member, which was unheard of at the time. A year later, Threlfo was asked to become the secretary of the association.

He was appointed the brigade’s building inspector in 1968, then an operational inspector in the Blue Mountains zone in 1973. He reached superintendent rank in 1977 and was in charge of personnel before heading the fire prevention department.

Threlfo was passionate about education and learning, and in 1978 took charge of the new staff training and development division. In 1979, he became deputy chief officer (services), then deputy chief officer (executive). He was chosen to be the acting chief officer in 1980, and appointed chief officer in October 1980, a position he held for four years.

In his time as chief officer, Threlfo appointed the first chaplain, in 1981, bought the first computer for the board, in 1982, and created a fire investigation unit to assist the police arson squad. He worked to ensure that rescue equipment to cut people out of cars was on every fire engine and was integral to incorporating the principles of natural justice in the disciplinary regulations.

Threlfo brought a stronger focus on media and public relations to the brigades, especially public education on fire safety. The brigades developed a school lecture program on fire prevention and safety with the Department of Education, and also launched a man-sized puppet, Inspector Bernie Cinders. The character spread the fire safety program to 30,000 children in its first six months, and appeared on children’s television.

Threlfo was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1986 and a life member of the union when he retired.

Rex Threlfo is survived by Mavis, daughters Karen and Kerry, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Evan Mistilis

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About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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