Today’s question follows from yesterday’s post Is being disrespectful to a politician a breach of the RFS Code of Conduct (February 17, 2020). Before I get to the question I see that there have been news reports that the firefighter in question was sacked. He is reported to have said to The Project (see 5AA Firefighter Says He Was Sacked After His Rant About The Prime Minister (17 February 2020):
… he was stood down because of the comments:
“The message I got was about time you brought the truck back because we were about to send the police to go look for you. And then there were further comments with gestures and arm movements saying that I’m finished. It’s all over.
“Another captain from another brigade within Batemans Bay came out and I asked him the question, I said: ‘What’s going on?’ He said: ‘You’re finished because of your allegations and foul language against the PM of the country while representing the RFS’.
“Didn’t know you could get sacked from a volunteer organisation but apparently you can.”
I cannot believe that gets press space. Someone saying ‘you’re finished’ is not getting sacked, it’s someone expressing an opinion. Any member must have had some exposure to the RFS Code of Conduct and have realised that of course one can have one’s membership of a voluntary organisation removed, but not summarily – see Service Standard 1.1.2 Disciplineand most of the posts that appear here – https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/category/disciplinary-matters/. Given the effort the RFS goes to set out the Code of Conduct and ethics and the processes if it has in place if it wants to cancel a person’s membership no-one could honestly have believed that the reported comments meant that they, or anyone else, had been ‘sacked’ or dismissed from the RFS.
The next step in a matter that is being blown out of all proportion is today’s question:
… regarding the reported creation of the West Nelligen Fire Brigade as a private fire fighting brigade outside the RFS management. I have no interest on the political ramifications, rather the legal cover that may or may not exist for such a brigade. in particular it is mentioned that all intended members have their own insurance, bit of a blanket statement as I’m sure the insurance issue goes beyond covering themselves for injury and would extend to public liability among other things. in relation to the Rural Fires Act what would be the standing of a private brigade with regards to what is and isn’t covered, what they are and not allowed to do etc
(see ‘Firefighter insists he was sacked for anti-PM rant after NSW RFS denies claim’ SBS News (Online) (17 February 2020)).
Should ‘a number of local farmers from the Nelligen area to start a new community fire brigade, which has no affiliation with the NSW RFS’ they would be a private club. They could not use the title Rural Fire Brigade, they could not use the RFS shed or equipment. They would enjoy no rights or protections under the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW). They would, presumably, not be notified of triple zero calls. They could exercise no power nor authority that is granted to rural fire brigades by the Rural Fires Act.
At a fire they would be subject to the direction and control of the RFS (Rural Fires Act 1987 (NSW) s 22 including the power (s 22A) of an officer of a rural fire brigade or group of rural fire brigades to:
… cause to be removed any person, vehicle, vessel or thing the presence of whom or which at or near a fire, incident or other emergency might, in the officer’s opinion, interfere with the work of any rural fire brigade or the exercise of any of the officer’s functions.
Depending on how they organised themselves and how they behaved they could commit offences contrary to the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) s 63B relating to impersonating ‘an emergency services organisation officer’.
For related discussions see:
- Operating a private fire brigade in SA (May 18, 2019);
- What is a NSW fire brigade? (August 27, 2014);
- Self help firefighting in Victoria (August 30, 2014); and
- Neighbours helping neighbours during a Victorian bushfire and the powers of the CFA (November 28, 2014).