Today’s question came via email in response to the post Private fire appliances and the CFA (December 2, 2017):
… my question is “is it illegal to put out fire with private firefighting equipment?” Some people are saying that it’s illegal but in the CFA private firefighting equipment handbook it says that its legal. What happens when I come to a fire first; will there be any problem with people saying that it’s illegal?
Also l have done a leadership course and my plan was a private firefighting equipment and follow to the letter from the CFA private firefighting equipment handbook but I am getting different opinions and I have been told that if continue with this I will be reported to the CFA and the police. This person hasn’t seen the private firefighting equipment handbook.
I assume that the reference to the CFA handbook is the Country Fire Authority Guidelines for Operating Private Equipment at Fires (Edition 2 – June 2016). Those guidelines start with the comment:
The responsibility for individuals to fight fire on their own land has always been a part of Victoria’s fire fighting suppression regime. It was recognized in the Royal Commission into the disastrous 1939 Black Friday fires where Commissioner Stretton recommended that when a fire breaks out on private land “it should be made the duty of the landholder…to take immediate steps to check and suppress such fire”. This recommendation is reflected today in Section 34 of the CFA Act, 1958.
It has always been the custom and practice in Victoria that members of the community attend fires with their own equipment to protect their property and that of others. For that matter, CFA developed from such beginnings.
The Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 34 says:
Where a fire … is burning on any land in the country area of Victoria at any time during a fire danger period the owner or the occupier or the person in charge of that land whether or not he has lighted the fire or caused the fire to be lighted shall—
(a) immediately upon becoming aware of the fire, take all reasonable steps to extinguish the fire…
In Stephens v Stephens (1970) 92 WN(NSW) 810 Mason JA found that no legal authority was necessary to extinguish a bushfire.
It is absolutely legal to try to fight a fire with private equipment. The idea that the CFA and only the CFA can fight bushfires would deny both reality (ie that others can indeed fight fires) and the whole idea of resilience to natural disasters. People can help themselves and their neighbours.
Extend that to all fires and can you imagine telling people it’s illegal to use a fire extinguisher to try and put out a fire before the fire brigade arrives? That scenario shows the stupidity of a suggestion that people cannot attempt to put out a fire with whatever equipment they have.
It might be illegal to create a fire brigade, impersonate the CFA, interfere with the operations of the CFA, but those issuers were not the subject of the question.
For further discussion, see:
- Self help firefighting in Victoria (August 30, 2014);
- Neighbours helping neighbours during a Victorian bushfire and the powers of the CFA (November 28, 2014);
- Splitting from the CFA (June 13, 2016); and
- Private fire appliances and the CFA (December 2, 2017).