The web page of the Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland Inc. is reporting that the Queensland State Government has accepted legal advice to the effect that Queensland’s rural fire brigades are not part of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service. They have posted four issues that they ‘demand’ the QFES Commissioner respond to. I’m not the QFES Commissioner and do not purport to speak on his behalf, but I’ll have a go.
1. Clear legal definition of what is a Rural Fire Brigade, who constitutes it and what powers and responsibilities it exercises.
A rural fire brigade is ‘a group of persons’ who have been registered with the QFES Commissioner (Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 79). Who constitutes it is the people that seek registration of the Brigade. The Brigade would remain constituted by the operation of its rules. A Brigade could be constituted by a group of individuals, an incorporated entity, a local council or anyone else who wants to seek registration.
What responsibilities or powers it exercises are those responsibilities determined by the Commissioner (s 82). One of the things the Commissioner must do is identify the area where the brigade is in charge of fire fighting operations (s 82). When working in that area, the first officer of a rural brigade has all the same powers as an authorised officer of the QFES even though the first officer is not a member of the QFES. The power of the first officer may be exercised by anyone acting under that officer’s direction and where the brigade first officer is not present, the first officer’s powers may be exercised by the senior brigade member (s 83).
2. Clear legal definition of the relationship between QFES, Rural Fire Brigades and the SES.
According to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) the QFES is made up of the Commissioner and Fire Service Officers (s 8A). Fire Service Officers are persons employed by the Commissioner pursuant to s 25 of the Act (see s 3 and Schedule 6). It is axiomatic that volunteer fire fighters are not employed so they are not part of the QFES.
Notwithstanding that a rural fire brigade and its members are not part of QFES they are subject to significant direction and control. The Commissioner of QFES is ‘The commissioner is responsible for the efficiency of rural fire brigades and may provide training and other assistance to them’ (s 85). A brigade may make rules but the rules must not be inconsistent with the Act and must be approved by the Commissioner (s 80). A rural fire brigade must elect a first officer and such other officers as the brigade thinks necessary but the elections must be held in accordance with the Commissioner’s directions (s 81). Despite being elected a person only holds office for the period specified by the Commissioner and he or she can be removed by the Commissioner and the Commissioner may disqualify a person from holding office (s 81). A rural fire brigade has such functions as the Commissioner may determine (s 82). The Commissioner may, but is not required to, provide equipment to a rural fire brigade or provide a subsidy to purchase equipment. Any equipment provided or subsidised by the Commissioner remains the property of the State (s 84).
So can we answer the question? Yes I think we can. The Act begins by providing for the appointment of a Commissioner (s 5). The Commissioner is to manage QFES, the SES and to perform any other function given under the Act (s 7A). So the Commissioner, an individual appointed by the Governor-in-Council has a number of functions. Along with fire service officers he or she forms the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service and he or she is to manage that service. He or she is also to manage the SES and ES Units (ss 129-147D) and he or she is to exercise the authority described, above, with respect to rural fire brigades.
The fact that rural fire brigades is subject to the direction and control of the Commissioner does not mean they are part of the QFES. We can describe the relationship as three services, all lead by the same Commissioner, but not the same service.
3. A re-writing of the Rural Fire Brigade Manual, all Operations Doctrines, Standing Orders and Incident Management protocols reflecting the true position of Rural Fire Brigades and the QFES.
I make not comment on this.
4. Amendments to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, current as at 01/07/2014 to incorporate Rural Fire Volunteers and truly reflect the role that Rural Fire Brigades and Volunteers undertake.
Be careful what you wish for. As it is the Volunteer brigades are their own entity albeit subject to direction and control from the QFES Commissioner. If the Act was changed, if for example they became part of QFES they may lose much of their local identity that has been the hallmark of volunteer brigades throughout their history. Being part of QFES may create a more responsive ‘all hazards’ agency and breakdown barriers between volunteers and paid staff and may open ‘volunteer to career’ channels but it does not necessarily come without a cost. As QFES brigades may be expected to respond outside their own area and may be under more control. Do all brigades, or their members, think moves such as the move from the Bush Fires Act 1949 (NSW) to the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) was a universal benefit? Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t I’m not sure but if I was advising the Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland Inc. I would want them to consider what actually is the problem, because their powers are pretty clear (s 83) so how do they want to be incorporated more into the QFES, and why? There may be very good reasons to want changes to the Act, but they’re not obvious.
More on the Queensland Road Rules (November 26, 2012)
Malone inquiry into Queensland Rural Fire Service and volunteer protection (April 20, 2013)
A further review of the Malone Inquiry into the Queensland Rural Fire Brigades (June 11, 2013)
I have been following this subject for quite some time. Many thanks for providing an opinion. I would like to pose the question that if an ‘officer’ as defined, in the variations as indicated, is not in attendance during the turnout does this automatically transfer to a non ‘officer’ (crew leader, senior fire fighter or firefighter as we have in Qld). If so how is that achieved (apart from a verbal understanding promulgated by QFES) and if not what are the implications when turning out to, driving and operating on the fireground and some cases acting as incident controller for non ‘officers’.
My original post says ‘The power of the first officer may be exercised by anyone acting under that officer’s direction and where the brigade first officer is not present, the first officer’s powers may be exercised by the senior brigade member (s 83).’
Specifically s 83(4) says ‘first officer includes, where the first officer of a rural fire brigade is unavailable to act, the next senior officer of the brigade who is available.’ A first officer is elected by members of the brigade (s 81(1)). ‘A rural fire brigade may also elect such other officers as it considers necessary’ (s 81(2)). The term officer is not defined but I would not consider that the definition of ‘officer’ is akin to the military distinction between the ‘officers’ and ‘other ranks’. I’m not sure how crew leaders are appointed by I infer from the website of the Queensland Rural Fire Service (https://www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au/Volunteering/Pages/Rural-Fire-Service-Roles.aspx) that
it’s a position one qualifies for but presumably if you’re going to lead a crew you have to be appointed to that position by a brigade so that you know who the ‘crew’ is. Presumably firefighter and senior firefighter ranks are not elected. If we assume that these people are not elected to their position under s 81 then yes we can also infer that they are not ‘officers’.
The role descriptions identify the following as elected positions:
• First Officer;
• Brigade Officer;
• Secretary; and
Presumably the Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer are not expected to take on the first officer’s role even if they are elected ‘officers’.
A team leader (part of a primary producer brigade) is to ‘take on the roles and responsibilities of the First Officer in the absence of the First Officer’. There is no similar statement in the position description for ‘Brigade Officer’.
The issue would be much clearer if s 83(4) referred to ‘the next senior member of the brigade’ rather than ‘senior officer’.
Should the issue ever arise in a legal context, I would anticipate that anyone would consider that any member of the brigade is a fire brigade officer so that the powers do extend down the rank structure that defines the seniority within the brigade, but I do note that is not what the Act literally says.
Thank you or your comments. Crew Leaders are not elected, but are provided that rank at the completion and passing of the QFES RURAL FIRE SERVICE QLD course. The only elected persons are those that you have already identified..
So it is to this end that many of us find ourselves in a quandary on turnout and operations. Also, from time to time we are requested to form a part of a strike team and travel to areas outside of the Brigade area to assist with fires and other emergencies.
Crewleader is not a rank that’s why they went back to white helmets for crewleader. It’s a role, you’re basically a senior firefighter who has passed a course and can be put in charge of a crew
Qfes is a depatment made of 3 services as you mentioned. The qfes you seem to be referring to are not qfes but fire and rescue and are a service like the rfs that is a part of qfes
Bob, that’s not what the Act says. The Act hasn’t referred to Queensland Fire and Rescue since amendments in 2014. Today there is Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (Chapter 3) and that chapter includes rural fire brigades (ss 79-86) and then Chapter 4 deals with the State Emergency Service. The QFES website (https://www.qfes.qld.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx) refers to QFES, the Rural Fire Service and the SES. There is not a seperate service of ‘fire and rescue’ that sits under a QFES department.
Thank you again. I used the term rank as is used in police and military, where the use of bars on epaulettes distinguish one from the other. A crew leader wears 3 bars and carries the responsibility of being in charge of a crew, all of whom are volunteers. My concern remains regarding turnout and operations where no ‘officer’ is in attendance and the application of exemptions under the road rules when using the Brigade’s appliances which are fitted with lights and sirens or dealing with fire etc from a roadway.
Brian, I’m sorry I didn’t realise you were asking about road rules, I thought you were asking about the power of a first officer to take ‘charge of operations for controlling and extinguishing a fire’ and to exercise ‘the powers of an authorised fire officer’ and ‘control and [direct] … any person (including any fire officer) whose services are available at the fire’ (s 83).
With respect to the idea of an officer within the RFS for the purposes of the road rules, see More on the Queensland Road Rules
(November 26, 2012). Now that post does refer to the Fire and Rescue Act 1990 (Qld), that is the Act before the 2014 amendments, but the significant impact of those amendments, beside the change of name, was to transfer the SES from Emergency Management Queensland to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service. Without double checking each provision I don’t think it makes a difference to the discussion in that post about the multiple use of the term ‘officer’.
Thanks Michael, it seems I was at fault in attaching my queries to the wrong post.
What you have stated re Ist officer’s powers and delegation to next senior officer is understood. I have been informed, by a senior officer of QFES that in the absence of an officer it can be taken that the delegated authority can move to a non officer and this then has an impact regarding the ’emergency vehicle’ and ’emergency worker’ on a roadway. Personally I am uncomfortable with this view.
I trust that I have not confused the issue too much.
Brian, no drama. In my post of November 26 2012 I said that the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) defined emergency worker as, inter alia ‘an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority …’ I argued that a first officer of a rural brigade could fall within the definition of ‘an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority’ for the purpose of that rule.
Today the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) has a different definition. Today an emergency worker is, relevantly, ‘a fire officer under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 or a fire and rescue service of another State’. Under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 ‘fire officer’ means ‘means a person employed in the service who has the functions of fire prevention and fire control, and includes a person employed under this Act who is undergoing training as a fire officer’.
Any argument that may have applied where the reference was to an ‘officer’ can’t apply now. A ‘fire officer under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990’ is an employee so can’t include a volunteer even if that volunteer can exercise the powers of ‘an authorised fire officer’. Just because a first officer can exercise the powers of an authorised fire officer (s 83) that doesn’t mean he or she is a fire officer that is it doesn’t convert a volunteer to an employee.
What follows is that in my view since that amendment (which appears to have been made in 2014) a volunteer fire fighter is not an emergency worker for the purposes of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) which means that indeed they can’t claim any exemption from the road rules. In other words, in my last response to you I said ‘Without double checking each provision I don’t think it makes a difference to the discussion in that post about the multiple use of the term ‘officer’.’ Now that I have checked it appears that amendment made a huge difference.
My post – More on the Queensland Road Rules (November 26, 2012) – was inspired by a commentator who wrote ‘You note in your reply, or at least assume, that rural volunteer firefighters can drive an emergency vehicle in Qld under lights and sirens. How I wish that were true! The very sad fact is that a rural fire volunteer, even a volunteer officer, is not a fire officer as defined under the QFRS provisions. Hence, none of the road rule exemptions apply and all rural fire vehicles have to be driven in accordance with all road rules…’ On November 26, 2012 I thought that statement was wrong. On September 2, 2017 I think that commentator is now correct.
It follows that members of the Rural Fire Service can only operate a fire appliance as an emergency vehicle if there has been written authority provided by the Commissioner of Police.
Michael, Thank you very much for your response in clarifying the current state of play indicating where Volunteer of Rural Fire Service Queensland stand in Qld.
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