A correspondent has

… a young friend who is appointed by a local government authority in a WA regional shire as a Bush Fire Control Officer under the Bush Fires Act 1954, Part IV Division 1 Section 38. This is sanctioned as he is an “officer” in his local BFB.

He has stated to me on numerous occasions that he has the authority to fit red warning lights to his privately registered vehicle. This statement is due to his duties as an officer of his BFB and an FCO.

When prompted about it he often states that he “was told that by someone”. His most recent statement was words to the effect that it was “approved by DFES and the Department of Transport (DoT) therefore no DoT permit is required”.

I don’t think the “someone told me” defence would be an argument that would hold weight in front of a magistrate.

The issue of warning lights on private cars is a common subject on this blog – see https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/page/2/?s=red%2Fblue

The answers to this question is largely set out in a WA Department of Transport (DoT) publication – Flashing warning lights and emergency vehicle status (December 2017).  That document says:

Can I fit and use flashing warning lights on my vehicle?

Yes, provided:

  • the vehicle is a type of vehicle specifically authorised under the Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014 (fitment of FWLs) and the Road Traffic Code 2000 (use of FWLs on public roads); or
  • the CEO of DoT has approved the fitment and/or use of FWLs.

The Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014 (WA) r 327 says, with respect to flashing warning lights (FWLs) that an emergency vehicle or a vehicle approved by the CEO of the DoT may be fitted with a flashing warning light (r 327(2) and (4)(a) and (e)).    An emergency vehicle includes

a vehicle operated by — …

(ii) a bush fire brigade under the Bush Fires Act 1954; or

(iii) the department of the Public Service principally assisting in the administration of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998 [ie DFES], and ordinarily used by members of the brigade or members of staff of that department in the course of carrying out their duties;

or a vehicle declared by the CEO of DoT as an emergency vehicle (rr 226 and 227).

It follows that my correspondent’s friend can put a red light on his vehicle if his vehicle is ‘operated by a bush fire brigade’ or by virtue of the appointment as a bush fire control officer means it is ‘operated’ by DFES.  I do not think a person’s membership of a bushfire brigade or position as a fire control officer means that a private vehicle is operated by the brigade or DFES (see What is a vehicle that is ‘operated by or on behalf of and under the control’ of Ambulance Victoria? (July 21, 2017) and Fitting red emergency warning lights to a private vehicle in WA (September 5, 2015)) but I suppose it is arguable.

If a bush fire brigade does not ‘operate’ the person’s private vehicle then it is illegal to have a fitted flashing light without the CEO’s approval.  The document cited above explains how to apply for permission and there are online forms:

Conclusion

My correspondent’s friend may be correct.  If DFES have specifically said that they take the view that when responding to a fire in his or her private car then they accept that the car is being operated by DFES that would appear to make the vehicle an emergency vehicle.  If I were that driver I would want to make sure that this was in writing.

A better approach would be to apply for permission from the CEO of DoT.  If DFES or the local council supported the use of the red warning light they would no doubt be willing to provide a letter to that effect.  If the CEO of DoT gave the relevant permission that would be sufficient.

In the absence of anything in writing either from DFES or the CEO of DoT then ‘someone told me’ is not going to be helpful.