Today’s correspondent asks for
… advice in relation to who has control of resources in fire related incidents in Victoria. With the introduction of Fire Rescue Victoria, there is some confusion among responders as who is to have control. As I understand it, where CFA now responds into an FRV area, FRV are the “combat authority,” thus have overall command of the fire and vice versa. An example of where some confusion is experienced is below. FRV arrives to a fire incident inside a CFA area. FRV begins to combat the incident and makes a call to firecom to cancel CFA appliances on route. CFA appliances, on the basis that they are the “combat authority” continue to the incident. Does one fire authority have the ability to cancel the other when outside of their boundary/jurisdiction?
Isn’t this really about respect and working together rather than the law?
The relevant acts will be the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic), the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) and the Emergency Management Acts 1986 and 2013 (Vic).
Whereas there was the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Country Fire Authority, now there is Fire and Rescue Victoria operating across Victoria with paid firefighters, and the CFA with volunteer firefighters. Schedule 2 of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 says:
The Fire Rescue Victoria fire district consists of the land delineated and coloured green on the plan lodged in the Central Plan Office and numbered LEGL./17-371.
That is rather unhelpful without access to that plan but helpfully the CFA publishes the maps on its website see https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/cfa-and-frv-boundaries.
Fire Rescue Victoria boundaries now include the previous MFB boundaries as well as some outer urban areas and larger regional centres across Victoria. Formerly there were integrated stations that had both paid and volunteer CFA firefighters. Now the paid firefighters are employees of Fire Rescue Victoria. The CFA says:
CFA volunteers serving at former integrated stations in those outer urban areas and larger regional centres continue to respond to emergencies in their area as part of Victoria’s emergency response arrangements. In an emergency all agencies work together as one. CFA and FRV employees also work in the State Control Centre and Regional Control Centres.
It is a function of Fire Rescue Victoria to, amongst other things, ‘ provide for fire suppression and fire prevention services in the Fire Rescue Victoria fire district’ (s 7(1)(a)).
The control of the prevention and suppression of fires in the country area of Victoria is, vested in the Country Fire Authority (Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) ss 14 and 20).
Both Acts (Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) s 2A; Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 2) say:
It is the intention of the Parliament that Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority establish processes that will ensure that they—
(a) promote collaboration and coordination between fire services agencies to best meet the safety needs of the community; and
(b) recognise the importance of maintaining capacity to respond to peaks in demand for fire services within fire services agencies; and
(c) recognise and value the contribution of volunteer brigades; and
(d) recognise that both volunteer firefighters and career firefighters are vital to delivering safe and sustainable fire services; and
(e) maintain the ability of fire services agencies to respond to critical incidents, to prevent and suppress fires and to protect life and property.
Equally both agencies (Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 6B; Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) s 7A) have the objective to:
(a) contribute to a whole of sector approach to emergency management;
(b) promote a culture within the emergency management sector of community focus,
The Emergency Management Manual Victoria, part 7 defines the roles for the various emergency services. It says that the Country Fire Authority (p. 7-36) is the:
Control Agency for:
- fire on private land within Country Area Victoria
- accidents involving gas leakage, hazardous materials, lifts, or scaffolding and amusement structures, and building collapse
- fire and explosion incidents involving aircraft and boilers and pressure vessels
- rescue incidents involving rail, aircraft and industrial, road, and building structures.
Fire Rescue Victoria (p. 7-70) is the:
Control agency for:
- fire in the Fire Rescue Victoria Fire District (including the Port of Melbourne and waters as defined in the Port Management Act 1995)
- accidents involving gas leakage, hazardous materials, lifts, cranes or scaffolding and amusement structures, and building collapse
- fire and explosion incidents involving aircraft and boilers and pressure vessels
- rescue incidents involving rail, aircraft and industrial, road, trench and tunnel., and building structures.
A control agency is (p. 7-1) the ‘agency identified … [as] the primary agency responsible for responding to a specified type of emergency’ (see also Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) s 54). But an agency responsible for responding to an event can respond its own resources or those of another agency. Think of Victoria SES calling on the CFA to assist with calls for assistance in a flood or storm.
The scenario I’m given is:
FRV arrives to a fire incident inside a CFA area. FRV begins to combat the incident and makes a call to firecom to cancel CFA appliances on route. CFA appliances, on the basis that they are the “combat authority” continue to the incident. Does one fire authority have the ability to cancel the other when outside of their boundary/jurisdiction?
That Fire Rescue Victoria responds into a ‘CFA area’ is appropriate and consistent with the above. The CFA may be the control agency but responding FRV can be part of its function of ‘responding’ to the fire. And the community want and need a fire brigade without regard to which brigade. This will be particularly relevant where the FRV staff are on station and have a much faster response time than the CFA that has to wait for volunteers to first get to the station and then turn out.
If FRV begin their work and either extinguish the fire or realise that they have all the resources that they need to manage the emergency. They should communicate that to FIreCom (in the say way they need to communicate if more resources are required) as those coordinating the response need to know what resources are required. Assume the fire is actually extinguished, advising FireCom of that may well mean they ‘call off’ the CFA volunteers, they don’t need to respond and won’t have anything to do when they get there.
Subject to any SOPs between FRV and the CFA and standards set by the Emergency Management Commissioner (Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) Part 4) my view would be no, FRV cannot direct the CFA appliances not to attend, but they can advise the ComCen (and in effect the CFA) that the resources are not required. The CFA can reasonably and consistently with the directions to collaborate and cooperate with each, call off their brigade. The call to FireCom is not an order from the local brigade captain to cancel the CFA, it is information to FireCom and they make the decision. But to insist that the CFA volunteers continue to an event where there is nothing useful to do would seem to be contrary to the intention of the Parliament and the objectives of the services, set out above.
There is no legal authority for one fire service to cancel the other when outside of their boundary/jurisdiction but they can certainly advise the other that the situation is under control and further resources are not required. Relevant coordinators can call off a responding appliance that is not required. That is not a matter of law but a matter of working with ‘collaboration and coordination between fire services agencies to best meet the safety needs of the community’.
One point of clarification. “FireCom” are not incident controllers and don’t make any decisions on resource deployment. They are the dispatcher and central communications point. The confusion in the above scenario arises as to whether FRV, who is not the control agency in this instance, has the authority to turn back resources from the control agency (CFA). If FRV had not done an acceptable job, eg, had not put the fire out and had left the scene, the control agency would be accountable.
I accept that about FireCom, I was using that as a shorthand for the process that must sit in the control centre. If there is an alarm of fire in a CFA area then the CFA has to make sure there is a response, but the response can come from a VFR brigade or a CFA brigade. And if VFR have dealt with, or can deal with the event, it would be remiss of them not to advise the relevant decision maker that further resources are not required. That does not compel those decision makers to turn a CFA appliance around; it does not mean there is a breach of any rule if the CFA appliance continues, but equally relevant decision makers (which may be the VFR officer in charge if according to the SOPs between the CFA and VFR he or she is the IC) have to have the ability to stand responding units down.
As for firecom, there may be operators receiving communications, but they don’t just receive radio calls and do nothing with the information received. The information is being sent so that someone can act on the information being communicated, including making decisions about what resources are allocated to incidents. If the officer on scene advises that further resources are not required that is not the ‘authority’ to turn back resources but its information that a relevant decision maker can use.
If the decision maker is not a person on the other end of the radio then it must be the brigade captain on scene. As noted the CFA may be the control agency but that does not mean that the IC has to be a CFA officer, if VFR have been despatched then it must be the VFR officer in charge who is the officer in charge at the scene in which case in accordance with AIIMS the decision on resources is something within their remit.
If ‘FRV had not done an acceptable job’ then the CFA did not properly manage the fire, and yes the CFA and more importantly the state of Victoria (that owns both the CFA and the VFR) will answer for that. But it’s just as likely that a CFA brigade will not do an ‘acceptable job’ as a VFR brigade. If the CFA thinks that one of their brigades has to respond to every job because they cannot trust members of VFR to do an acceptable job that cannot inter alia ‘promote collaboration and coordination between fire services agencies to best meet the safety needs of the community’ nor can it maintain capacity to respond to other events if all brigades are at an event that they don’t need to be at. If the CFA has to check up on the VFR (and vice versa) that is not recognising ‘both volunteer firefighters and career firefighters are vital to’ and capable of, ‘delivering safe and sustainable fire services’.
For a call in a country area, the CFA working with VFR (and SES, and police, and land management agencies, and Emergency Management Victoria) has to make sure there is an ability to respond the resources required to deal with the emergency. If those resources don’t come from the CFA that is not a breach of the law. And if one agency has dealt with it the Acts cited don’t require that a person in CFA uniform turn up to check on their fellow agency. I just cannot see that this is a legal issue.
Thanks, Michael. The question I was asking, rather clumsily, was whether the control agency (CFA) needs to be on-scene at any point. With regard to your reply, FRV as a support agency can respond to and complete a call into a CFA area, without CFA being on-scene or controlling the call itself, in accordance with any inter-agency agreements (which are currently still under negotiation). This is more about inter-agency agreements and SOPs than any specific legal question.
Thanks for the question and this further comment as it allows me to revisit it and use an example that I thought of after I’d made the original post.
Imagine the CFA is a person (as indeed it, legally, is – Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 6(2)). As a person the CFA receives a fire call for a fire in a fire control region. He or she knows that he or she is responsible for to ‘superintending and enforcing all necessary steps for the … suppression of fires and for the protection of life and property in case of fire’. Further he or she knows that they are primarily ‘responsible for responding to a specified type of emergency’. So they have to respond and take steps to supress the fire and protect life. The CFA can then look around and ask ‘what resources do I have at my call?’
Those resources are CFA brigades but equally the entire focus of the legislation is collaboration and cooperation with other fire fighting agencies including FRV. CFA could call a CFA brigade but may realise that by the time volunteers get to the station and turn out, the paid FRV staff could already be at the scene taking action. Remembering that the objective of both CFA and FRV is to ‘best meet the safety needs of the community’ sending FRV is the best option and is part of the ‘collaboration and coordination between fire services agencies’. So FRV is sent but is backed up by the CFA brigade because at that time, no-one knows how this is going to work out. The FRV can do everything they need to do and exercise all their powers that are provided by the FRV Act in country Victoria (Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) s 55E).
The officer in charge of the FRV has to be the incident controller. Just as a matter of fact the FRV commander has to make decisions about how to combat the fire and what resources are required. In the absence of a CFA brigade he or she must be the Incident Controller at least until a decision is made by someone else to set up IMT’s or formally appoint someone else to that role. There is an obligation to comply with ‘incident management operating procedures’ which I would infer includes AIIMS so as the IC he or she has to be able to make the call on resources to the extent that is part of the response arrangements made between the CFA and FRV.
The FRV brigade get on scene and extinguish the fire or at least report that they have sufficient resources to deal with it. At that point the legal person that is the CFA has done everything that they are required to do. They have received a call and arranged a response to promote community safety. They don’t need to send further resources so they can call off further responding brigades.
Now the CFA is not really a person so the CFA cannot do that, but person’s authorised to make decisions on behalf of the CFA can and they are decisions of the CFA. A person with the authority from the CFA to make a decision about resourcing can make a decision to call off resources that are not required. A CFA brigade captain may be the CFA’s delegate as may a FRV brigade captain and a duty officer in the FireCom/ComCen.
I agree that ‘This is more about inter-agency agreements and SOPs than any specific legal question’. It is up to the CFA and FRV to work out how they will respond to these events. It is not a matter prescribed by legislation.
Thanks, Michael. As always, love your work.
“Isn’t this really about respect and working together rather than the law?” I would ask the same question.
Fire services, whether state or commonwealth, interstate, rural or urban fire services, tend to share a commonality whereby enabling provisions with their parent legislation provide cooperative firefighting with, and among, other agencies.
Should the parties choose to abandon, to set aside, or to hinder such arrangements in terms of an agency vs agency, then it is unlikely that the law can assist. The answer will only be found in cultural arrangements between the fire agencies.