Today’s correspondent is:
…looking for some guidance relating to the provision of private fire services. The state in question is South Australia. Can anyone start up their own private fire service and charge for their services and respond within the jurisdiction of a state fire service?
(I infer that this question does not relate to a private company, say a mine or owner of a large industrial complex, that operates a fire brigade, or contracts with a service provider, to provide a first response to an emergency or fire that occurs on the worksite and forms part of the businesses emergency procedures as required by the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA) r 359). I infer that what is in mind is someone who wants to purchase an appliance or two and create a ‘fee for service’ brigade to offer contractors a service in lieu of the state’s emergency services).
My correspondent refers to anyone starting ‘up their own private fire service … within the jurisdiction of a state fire service’ and there are two state fire services.
The Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) provides for the establishment of the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (SAMFS) and the South Australian Country Fire Service (SACFS) (and the South Australian State Emergency Service but that is not relevant for this discussion). The South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM) may define fire districts ‘for the purposes of the operations of SAMFS’. Outside an established fire district, the SACFS is the relevant fire fighting authority (s 4). In other words the ‘jurisdiction’ of the SAMFS is within declared fire districts; the ‘jurisdiction’ of the SACFS is outside declared fire districts.
Outside declared fire districts it is an offence ‘without the approval of the Commission or the Chief Officer of SACFS, be a member of a fire brigade … that is not an SACFS organisation’. For the purposes of that offence the term “fire brigade” ‘means a group of people equipped to deal with fires on behalf of a local community’ (s 134). Whilst a person who wanted to set up a fire brigade and say provide contracted services to a work site may argue that is not dealing with fires ‘on behalf of a local community’ we can conclude, at least prima facie, that it is not lawful to for anyone to ‘start up their own private fire service and charge for their services and respond within the jurisdiction of’ the SACFS.
Interestingly there is no similar provision with respect to fire districts. Section 34 says ‘The Chief Officer may establish a fire brigade within any fire district’ but it does not say that anyone else may NOT establish a fire brigade.
It appears then that a person could establish a fire brigade within the jurisdiction of the SAMFS but that would not be without its difficulties. The Brigade would not automatically have the right to operate emergency vehicles (Road Traffic (Road Rules–Ancillary and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2014 (SA) r 54 ‘definition of emergency worker’). They would not have the right to take water for firefighting or exercise any of the other powers of a SAMFS officer (Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) s 42), nor would they enjoy the protection from liability that applies to the SAMFS or SACFS (s 127). They would have to relinquish control to the SAMFS where that service attended any fire (s 41).
Further, although there is no equivalent to s 134 that applies within a fire district, there are other relevant offences. A person must not:
- falsely represent that he or she is a member of an emergency services organisation or other person with responsibilities under this Act (s 126(1)); or
- assume a name or description that consists of, or includes, official insignia (s 131(3); see also Emergency Management Act 2004 (SA) s 30).
A private fire brigade would need to take care in the design of any uniform, logo, insignia or decals that it could not be confused for the SAMFS or SACFS or give rise to an impression that they have responsibilities under the Act.
There is a prohibition on being a member of a private fire brigade in areas of South Australia that fall under the responsibility of the Country Fire Service (s 134). I suppose that means anyone could ‘start up their own private fire service’ but they could not have any members of the brigade.
There is no equivalent provisions for areas of the state that fall under the responsibility of the Metropolitan Fire Service but there are many provisions that could make it difficult if not impossible for such a brigade to operate. They would need to make it very clear that they are not part of the state’s emergency services structure or operating under the auspices of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) unless they had the approval of SAFECOM.
For related discussions see:
- What is a NSW fire brigade? (August 27, 2014)
- Self help firefighting in Victoria (August 30, 2014)
- Neighbours helping neighbours during a Victorian bushfire and the powers of the CFA
(November 28, 2014).