A question has been raised about NSW State Rescue Board currency requirements and whether they must be met in light of the current COVID-19 crisis.
- What happens if there is a cock up and it’s proven the member hadn’t maintained currency?’
- Should the SRB continue to enforce their policies?
- What should Units do that fail to meet currency in the current climate?
The NSW State Rescue Board Policy (4th ed, 2018) says (at [1.17]):
Currency means the process that recognises member’s skills, training and capabilities, captured via operational activity or skills maintenance, as determined by the agency.
Further (at [3.07]):
Agencies which provide accredited rescue units are required to maintain a register of personnel who comprise each unit, including the currency of qualifications.
With respect to flood rescue, the policy says (at [7.09]):
Agencies are to ensure they provide for currency training to support their flood rescue operators. Once accredited, flood rescue operators must maintain currency in their skills as follows:
1. Fit for task
i. Agencies are to determine the ‘fit for task’ components of the response arrangements for Flood Rescue as part of their risk assessment.
ii. Operators must demonstrate that they are fit for task to ensure the safety of both the rescuer and the person being rescued.
2. Skills maintenance
i. Agencies must ensure that their operators maintain competence through regular training, exercising and operational deployment.
What is apparent is that it is the agency, not the SRB that determines what constitutes currency and what is the appropriate way to ensure currency. The correct question then, as with all training, is how can agencies manage training to ensure that members retain currency in skills to complete their tasks. There are no doubt many ways to do that and it’s not for me to tell anyone how they will manage training in these new times.
As for what happens ‘ if there is a cock up and it’s proven the member hadn’t maintained currency?’ The answer is that the question of currency, like a licence, is fairly irrelevant. It’s illegal to drive a motor vehicle without a licence but that does not mean that an unlicensed driver does not know how to drive or is necessarily at fault in an accident. An unlicensed driver may be very competent; a licensed driver may be dangerously incompetent. The question as to fault in the accident is ‘what happened’ not who had what ticket. The difference between driving and rescue is that it is a criminal offence to drive without a licence so the unlicensed driver can be given an infringement notice or court attendance notice regardless of competence and fault.
Just because your certificate of currency has expired it does not mean that you are no longer competent. First aid certificates are valid for three years and you are meant to redo CPR every year. But if you haven’t renewed either or both it does not mean you should not, or must not, perform CPR or provide other first aid if it is required. And given COVID-19 and social isolation, it may be harder to get the chance to renew first aid and CPR certificates in the next few months.
A person who has maintained currency up to 1 January 2020 won’t suddenly forget everything they knew if they cannot do refresher training before 1 January 2021 and it is unlikely that they won’t have operational activity and some chances to practice in that time, even if the practice looks different to what they have done before.
Neither the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) nor the NSW State Rescue Board Policy set out prescribed, mandatory currency requirements. These are set by agencies based on their own assessment. The correct question should not be about NSW State Rescue Board currency requirements but agency currency requirements. It is up to the agencies to determine how they will modify their training programs to ensure members retain skills and fitness for purpose and that’s as true for rescue as it is for everything else that agency might do (firefighting, storm response, community first responders etc).
If a unit fails to ‘meet currency’ that means they are no longer competent and/or no longer fit for purpose. They should advise the SRB accordingly and give up their accreditation. But, by ‘fails to ‘meet currency’’ I do not mean ‘failed to attend 3 training nights in six months’. What I mean is ‘are no longer competent or fit’ eg because someone in the team contracted COVID-19 and now the entire team is in self isolation and cannot respond.
Just because the planned training regime has been thrown out of whack does not mean that members cease, overnight to be competent or fit for duty. Competence is not measured by the number of training nights attended or forms ticked off. What agencies need to do, with respect to all aspects of their training, is make adjustments and rethink what do they need to do to be satisfied that they are able to respond to their essential tasks. That might vary agency to agency, and unit to unit.
If there’s a ‘cock up’ the question will be, as it always is, ‘was the conduct reasonable in all the circumstances’.
After posting the answer above, I received the AFAC (Australian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council) email newsletter that reported, inter alia:
AFAC Operations Groups convene to discuss response to COVID-19
Following discussions at the recent AFAC Board meeting, all AFAC Operations Groups will meet within the next week via teleconference to share information and response mechanisms taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic. This series of meetings will also identify key risk mitigation mechanisms implemented in agencies.
Agendas will cover:
- Preparedness measures for the next three months
- Current advice to first responders:
- operational directives
- safety advice and precautions
- personal protective clothing and equipment
- single crew response
- emergency medical response impacts
- Decontamination measures
- Round table on information, knowledge gathering and learnings
- Other strategies in place for workforce impact minimisation
It is hardly surprising that there are not yet answers to questions on what COVID-19 means for the usual business (but nothing is ‘business as usual’) of the rescue services; but clearly the agencies are ‘onto it’.