Following my post Emergency declarations for NSW and Queensland
(November 11, 2019) I received this question:

Thanks for this post – it directly relates to a question I have.

Members of the ACT Rural Fire Service, … are increasingly being deployed to fires in other jurisdictions – we have members in NSW as I type but within the last 12 months we have also been deployed in Queensland and Victoria. In the ACT, I hold a delegation from the Chief Officer that gives me a range of powers under the ACT Emergencies Act – these apply whilst I’m operating in the ACT.

What powers and responsibilities apply when I cross the border? More importantly, what powers and responsibilities apply when I take on incident management roles such as Sector Leader or Divisional Commander?

The answer depends on what sort of powers or authority you are talking about.  The ACT Rural Fire Service is established by the Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) s 56, but it is not a legal entity that can sue and be sued.  The relevant legal entity is the Australian Capital Territory (see also s 198).  The Australian Constitution, s 118 says ‘Full faith and credit shall be given, throughout the Commonwealth to the laws, the public Acts and records, and the judicial proceedings of every State.’  Without exploring that in detail, given the ACT is a legal entity and given the rural fire service is established by the laws of the ACT it must follow that the ACT Rural Fire Service continues to exist even when its members cross territory borders.

So as a team deploys interstate they remains members of the ACT service and subject to all the command and discipline provisions in the Emergencies Act so powers under that Act with respect to command authority and just general administration of the brigade can be exercised anywhere.

Chief Officers of the ACT emergency services can exercise various powers at an emergency (s 34) and can delegate those powers to members and officers of the emergency services.  It is arguable that those powers also carry across the territory borders but equally it is arguable that they do not.  The ACT legislation is a law for the territory and would not generally have interstate application.

To avoid those sort of arguments, the states and territories provide for interstate assistance – see for example  Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) s 64; Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 86 (but that only extends to officers from NSW, SA and the NT); Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 43; Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 93A.  Even where there are no specific provisions, the Commissioners or Chief Officers could authorise or delegate to interstate agencies powers under relevant Acts.  Some acts also empower people acting under the direction or authority of the relevant combat or hazard management agency.

In short to obtain the exact answer one would need to look at the request for deployment and how it is to be managed as well as the specific legislation in the host state, but the general answer will be that a visiting brigade can exercise the powers of the brigades or emergency services in the state – so the ACT officer appointed as  a Sector Leader or Divisional Commander could do all the things a local officer appointed to that position could do.

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