Today’s correspondent has read

…  number of [your] recent posts regarding the registration of paramedics and protection of that title. Given that the Victorian government has passed the various acts required to neuter CFA and establish “Fire Rescue Victoria” including the establishment of a “professional firefighters registration board” [as described in various publications, not necessarily its legal name], can you make any comment on how this will impact the many volunteer firefighters, or those employed in industry, parks and so forth, within Victoria.

Some explanation of what this board is intended to accomplish could also help!

The Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2019 (Vic) (‘the Reform Act’) became law on 3 July 2019. Part 2, dealing with compensation rights is in force.  Other parts of the Act dealing with the reforms to the CFA, the creation of Fire Rescue Victoria and the establishment of the Firefighters Registration Board are yet to come into force (see s 2).  I have previously commented on the provisions for presumptive rights to compensation (see Presumptive workers compensation law for Victorian firefighters (June 23, 2019)).

When the Reform Act comes into force, it will amend and rename the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958 (Vic).  The Act will be called the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) and what is now the Metropolitan Fire Brigades will become Fire Rescue Victoria (‘FRV’; Reform Act s 23).   The Act will also be amended to include provisions to establish the Fire Services Implementation Monitor and the Firefighters Registration Board (Reform Act s 85).  The references to sections of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic), below, are references to sections that will be inserted once the Reform Act is commenced.

The Minister is to prepare a plan to implement the reforms to the two fire agencies (Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) s 130). The Fire Services Implementation Monitor is to ‘monitor and review the progress of Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority in carrying out the Implementation Plan’ (s 131).  The Monitor is to ensure that the CFA and FRV cooperate to ensure seamless fire services for Victorians and ‘ensuring that volunteer brigades are not adversely affected by the fire services reforms’ (s 130(2)(b)).

The Firefighters Registration Board, the subject of the rest of this discussion, is to be established by s 149.    The purpose of the Registration Scheme is (s 148(2)):

to provide for the registration of—

(i) officers and employees of Fire Rescue Victoria proposed to be made available to the Country Fire Authority under a secondment agreement within the meaning of section 25C(10); and

(ii) other persons who wish to be employed by Fire Rescue Victoria in order to be made available to the Country Fire Authority under a secondment agreement…

To understand that we need to go back to earlier provisions.  Currently the Metropolitan Fire Brigades operate in metropolitan Melbourne.  Outside that area, firefighting services are provided by the Country Fire Authority (the CFA).  The CFA has both volunteer and employed firefighters plus many people employed in other roles.  With the implementation of the fire service reforms, all employed fire fighters will be employed by FRV.  The CFA will become ‘a fully volunteer fire fighting service’ (Reform Act s 1(c)(ii)).   The CFA can employ the ‘Chief Officer, Deputy Chief Officer and Chief Executive Officer’ but other employees of FRV can be seconded to the CFA (Reform Act ss 50, 51 and 75).  In essence those employed to work for the CFA will actually be employed by FRV and seconded to the CFA.

The explanatory memorandum issued with the Bill says:

Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority will undertake a joint selection process to decide on suitable officers or employees for secondment.  The Chief Officer of the Country Fire Authority will have the final approval on whether an officer or employee is suitable for secondment.

Subsections (2) and (3) of new section 25C provide that if the Chief Officer of the Country Fire Authority is not satisfied that suitable officers or employees can be made available under subsection (1), the Chief Officer may request Fire Rescue Victoria to conduct a further external equitable, fair and transparent selection process, in consultation with the Chief Officer.

These provisions facilitate entry of new officers or employees into Fire Rescue Victoria for the purpose of a secondment to the Country Fire Authority.  A person cannot be engaged as an officer or employee of Fire Rescue Victoria as a result of this process, unless the person meets the registration requirements specified by the Firefighters Registration Board.  This will ensure that candidates possess the necessary skills and experience to perform their duties at the Country Fire Authority.

In short, a person who wants to be employed by FRV but who wants to work with the CFA has to be registered as a firefighter.  That will be of particular relevance to people who are not yet employed by the CFA or MFB but who, after the reforms has started, wants a job with the CFA.  He or she will have to meet the standards for registration before he or she can be employed by FRV and seconded to the CFA.

There are transitional provisions for current employees of the CFA who will be transferred to FRV (see Fire Rescue Victoria Act (as it will be) s 25C(4)).

How this will impact the many volunteer firefighters, or those employed in industry, parks and so forth, within Victoria?

Largely it won’t.  Volunteer firefighters and firefighters employed by agencies other than Fire Rescue Victoria won’t be affected. This registration scheme is not at all a copy of or similar to the scheme of paramedic registration under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.  The registration scheme is only relevant for people who want to be employed by FRV for the purposes of working for the CFA