Today’s question raises a scenario that’s hard to imagine, and has some misunderstanding, but the substance of the question is ‘regardless of the roles, will FRNSW be held responsible for decisions on the fire ground because their fire fighters are paid, and NSWRFS firefighters are not?’ Put that way the answer is ‘no’. But let me turn to the question asked:
FRNSW turn up at a job within RFS area – RFS are the incident controller as it is their area- they say what happens and how to do, FRNSW then must do as requested by incident controller (RFS volunteer) and it results in the direction causing a death. Is the NSWFR, as paid professionals then liable for litigation as in the eyes of the law they are the professionals and should have known better.
And what would happen if the NSWFR officers refused to follow the direction as they feel it is not in the best interest of the situation, what action can or would be taken against them?
The first error is the assumption that the Incident Controller (IC) can not only direct FRNSW as to their task but also how to perform it. AIIMS recognises a difference between command and control. The IC is in ‘control’ of the response so he or she may ‘task’ FRNSW but FRNSW remain in ‘command’ of their own troops and their own actions. So, if FRNSW are asked to fight the fire burning in area A, it will be up to FRNSW to determine how they meet the controller’s objective.
In that light I simply can’t imagine a situation where a death, or any adverse outcome, can be solely attributed to a direction from the incident controller. Taking the situation where FRNSW is asked to fight the fire burning in area A, how can that decision lead to a death? And a death of a bystander? A firefighter? Even if the decision means that property in area B is not protected it can’t be said that the decision ‘caused’ the death, the fire did. So as noted at the start, the question itself is problematic.
What we can say is that people, and agencies, will be held responsible for the decisions and actions they are responsible for. The IC, and in this context the RFS, will be responsible for the decisions made as IC. The FRNSW firefighter will be responsible for the decisions they make. If the question is ‘should FRNSW have been assigned to area A or area B?’ then that is a question to be asked of the IC. If the question is ‘why did FRNSW do A instead of B?’ then that is a question for the FRNSW commander.
The courts, will in no way, say that FRNSW firefighters are responsible for overseeing, second guessing or somehow responsible for decisions that government policy implemented through legislation and then delegated decision making (so reflected in disaster plans, the adoption of AIIMS etc) has assigned to someone else. But of course if anyone perceives the IC has made an error, made a decision with incorrect information or assumptions, or hasn’t considered an appropriate alternative, that should be brought to the ICs attention.
But, as I said I infer the true question is ‘‘regardless of the roles, will FRNSW be held responsible for decisions on the fire ground because their fire fighters are paid, and NSWRFS firefighters are not?’ And the answer to that question is a categorical ‘no’.
As for the second question:
And what would happen if the FRNSW officers refused to follow the direction as they feel it is not in the best interest of the situation, what action can or would be taken against them?
If the FRNSW officers are tasked with a job but determine that they are not going to do it because it’s too dangerous, they need to communicate back to the IC. Equally if they determine that another option would be better they also need to communicate with the IC. Everyone has responsibilities so in context for example the FRNSW have responsibilities to do their own risk assessment as does the IC but the IC may not have the information that the crew on the ground have. So there has to be communication.
As for a crew who simply decide to ignore the IC then the whole concept of a controlled response to the fire disappears. Instead of a coordinated response there becomes as many responses as there are crews on the ground. In that situation the management is really up to the commanders and ultimately the chief officers of the services involved. If the failure of the brigade to follow the ICs directions can actually be demonstrated to have caused loss or damage and someone seeks compensation (putting aside all the difficulties that would face) then liability would fall to their agency (in the context of this question, FRNSW).
As noted, the question asked didn’t really make sense but the substance of the question is ‘regardless of the roles, will FRNSW be held responsible for decisions on the fire ground because their fire fighters are paid, and NSWRFS firefighters are not?’ The answer to that question is ‘no’.