Today’s correspondent says:
There is some dispute in my area about who should be providing assistance to NSW Ambulance.
NSW SES is the primary rescue agency for the area and believe that assisting ambulance lift/carry/extricate/load an injured person should be considered rescue and as such feel that they should be called out as the rescue agency.
Members of F+RNSW (secondary rescue) are aware that in many areas their agency is called to assist ambulance as listed above. In some cases they would be the primary rescue agency and in other cases not.
I am somewhat between a rock and a hard place; I am employed as a paramedic with NSW Ambulance, I also volunteer with NSW SES (and have quite the loyalty to that agency) and the NSW RFS and have developed friendships with F+RNSW members. Everywhere I turn I am asked about this and I’m not really sure of the answer.
I’ve tried finding information from SRB pages and from AustLII but nothing is particularly clear on the matter – any advice?
The question of who should be called to assist is not really a legal question. The answer depends on who can best assist and that will vary with the location and the task required.
To start with the law, it is a function of the NSW SES (State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 8(g)):
to assist, at their request, members of the NSW Police Force, Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW Rural Fire Service or the Ambulance Service of NSW in dealing with any incident or emergency.
It is a function of the NSW Rural Fire Service ‘to assist other emergency services organisations at incidents and at emergencies under the control of those organisations’ (Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 9(b)).
The Fire Brigades Act 1989 (NSW) does not list a similar function for Fire and Rescue NSW but s 7(1) says:
The Commissioner is authorised to take measures anywhere in the State for protecting persons from injury or death and property from damage, whether or not fire or a hazardous material incident is involved.
Assisting NSW Ambulance will be taking measures to protect the patient from injury or death and the Commissioner can authorise a fire brigade to attend and provide that requested assistance.
Fire and Rescue NSW, the State Emergency Service and now the Rural Fire Service all operate accredited rescue units under the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW). Rescue is rather unhelpfully defined as ‘the safe removal of persons or domestic animals from actual or threatened danger of physical harm’ (s 3). That definition is unhelpful as it covers so much that does not require a rescue unit. In one sense it tells rescue units what they have to do, so an accredited rescue unit can’t complain when it’s tasked to rescue a kitten. But so many agencies and people do things that involve ‘the safe removal of persons or domestic animals from actual or threatened danger of physical harm’ but are not conducting a ‘rescue’ eg the RSPCA that impound a neglected animal or an organisation that provides a safe-haven at a music festival (eg Red Frogs).
The unhelpful nature of the definition can be seen in s 51(1). That section says:
An emergency services organisation other than the NSW Police Force must, immediately after the organisation becomes aware of an incident that requires or is likely to require the rescue of any person, notify a member of the NSW Police Force of all relevant information concerning the incident.
If Ambulance are called to a person fallen at home, they are going to treat the person and if necessary remove them to hospital ie to remove them from danger of physical harm, but that’s hardly a rescue and they don’t have to notify police of every call they get.
It is not an offence to rescue someone if you do not operate an accredited rescue unit. The SES, Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance as do others, safely remove ‘persons or domestic animals from actual or threatened danger of physical harm’ all the time even if the unit is not the, or an, accredited rescue unit. It is an offence to hold oneself out as a rescue unit without accreditation (s 53).
The police are responsible for coordinating rescue (s 50) but they are not limited to calling the accredited rescue unit or units (State Rescue Policy [1.12]). In any event that function does not fall on police if
… the control of the rescue operation is vested by law in another agency, such as:
(a) a rescue operation in which the person or property is endangered by fire and at which a member of a Fire Brigade is in charge, or
(b) a rescue operation which results from an emergency and which is subject to the control of another agency in accordance with Part 2.
Part 2 deals with the creation of the State Emergency Management Plan (the SEMP). The SEMP says (p. 64) that NSW Ambulance is a:
Supporting agency responsible for pre-hospital management of all casualties including the establishment of casualty triage, treatment and transport.
In an all hazards/all agencies model, each of the services is available to assist the others in responding to emergencies. This is reflected in the legislation, and in particular the SES and RFS legislation.
The issue of who should assist will depend on what assistance is required. If it is a traditional ‘rescue’ (and the better guide to what that means is not the Act but the State Rescue Policy that defines the types of rescues and the competencies of the various rescue units) then one would expect ambulance to notify the police that rescue assistance is required and leave it to the police to coordinate the response. Accordingly if ambulance are called to a motor vehicle accident or an industrial accident I would anticipate that they would notify police as required by s 51 of the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act and police would probably call the accredited rescue unit.
Where, on the other hand, the call is not traditional rescue but one where the assistance is really a call for extra staff to help lift and carry the patient the ambulance can call whatever agency they want. Which one is the best to assist will vary. In the city or an urban area they might prefer to call FRNSW if the firefighters are on station as they will get a better response time and it avoids calling SES volunteers from work. In another situation it may be better to call the SES so that the community is not deprived of fire protection by calling out the fire brigade. In rural areas the Rural Fire Service may have more local volunteers and a better response time and local knowledge.
Even where the situation is considered a ‘rescue’ and ambulance ask police to coordinate the provision of assistance, police can apply the same considerations. They don’t have to call the accredited rescue unit and they may determine that typical rescue skills and tools are not required. If all that’s required is some extra hands they can call the agency that they think is best able to assist in all the circumstances.
There is no legal rule as to who should provide assistance to NSW Ambulance. It’s up to the ambulance service, or the police (depending on who’s coordinating the response) to call on the agency that they think is best positioned to provide the assistance they require in the particular circumstances.