Today’s correspondent says:
This would appear to be an age old question for you, but I’m going to ask it again anyway!
I work for a large company that, among other things, supply a fire station with 4 fire vehicles and approximately 20 qualified & trained fire fighters to an Australian defence force base in Queensland. It used to be a defence run station but not any more.
Our vehicles had their red and blue lights removed around 2014 and were replaced with orange ones. Could you explain to me why this was the case and how can we go about putting the red & blues back on legally?
The vehicles in question are two tankers, one urban pumper with breathing apparatus and all other urban equipment, and one off road Ute with small water tank. We respond to both bush and urban fire calls and are likewise, qualified to conduct these tasks. We have two permanent staff that are on call 24-7 and respond all hours day and night.
It is an age-old, oft repeated question with a very easy answer.
Drivers expect that vehicles fitted with red/blue flashing lights have a special status on the roads. It is not up to people to decide that they should have that special status and then install red/blue lights or a siren on their vehicle. The rights and privileges extended to the drivers of emergency vehicles are highly protected and rightly so. You cannot put red/blue lights on a private vehicle no matter how much you think you should be allowed to.
In Queensland, the answers to my correspondent’s questions are found in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management–Vehicle Standards And Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld). The relevant vehicle standards are set out in schedule 1. Clauses 99 says
(1) Despite any requirement of a third edition ADR—
(a) an exempt vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector; and
(b) a special use vehicle may be fitted with 1 or more flashing yellow lights.
(2) A vehicle, other than a police vehicle, must not be fitted with a blue light except with the written permission of the commissioner.
(3) A vehicle may be fitted with a light or reflector not mentioned in these standards only if the light or reflector is required or permitted to be fitted to a vehicle under an Act.
(4) A vehicle, other than an exempt vehicle or a special use vehicle, must not be fitted with a light that flashes.
(5) A vehicle, other than an exempt vehicle, must not be fitted with a light or reflector that—
(a) shows a red light to the front; or
(b) shows a white light to the rear; or
(c) is shaped or located in a way that reduces the effectiveness of a light or reflector that is required to be fitted to the vehicle under these standards.
(6) In this section—
“exempt vehicle” means any of the following vehicles—
… (b) an emergency vehicle …
“special use vehicle” means any of the following vehicles—
(a) a vehicle built or fitted for use in hazardous situations on a road…
Prima facie, only a police vehicle can have a blue light. If fire and other emergency service vehicles have blue and red lights, that must have been approved by the Commissioner (cl 99(2)).
My correspondent can only have flashing lights, of any colour, if the vehicles they use are exempt vehicles or special use vehicles.
I infer that the other paragraphs in the definition of exempt vehicle and special use vehicle are not relevant. Fire appliances are an exempt vehicle if they are an ‘emergency vehicle’. Emergency vehicle is defined in schedule 4 as
… a motor vehicle—
(a) fitted with—
(i) a repeater horn or siren; or
(ii) a flashing warning light; and
(b) driven by—
(i) an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service or an ambulance service of another State in the course of the officer’s duty; or
(ii) an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service or a fire and rescue service of another State in the course of the officer’s duty; or
(iii) an officer or employee of another entity with the written permission of the commissioner in the course of the officer’s or employee’s duty.
As my correspondent says they are a private fire service. I infer therefore that employees are not officers of ‘the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service or a fire and rescue service of another State’. That means that their vehicles are not emergency vehicles and therefore their vehicles are not ‘exempt vehicles’. As they are not ‘exempt vehicles’ they cannot be fitted with a forward-facing red light (including a flashing light) (cl 99(5)) nor can they be fitted with a blue light without the permission of the commissioner (cl 99(2)).
If we accept the appliances are ‘fitted for use in hazardous situations on a road’ (cl 99(6)) then they are a ‘special use vehicle’. A special use vehicle may be fitted with ‘1 or more flashing yellow lights’ (cl 99(1)).
Where the station was a defence run station then the appliances could have been fitted with red/blue lights as the defence force do not need to comply with those state provisions (Defence Act 1903 (Cth) s 123).
How do they go about ‘putting the red & blues back on legally?’ They would have to get written permission from the Commissioner of Police (Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld) sch 4, definition of ‘commissioner’) to be included in the definition of ‘emergency vehicle’ (see para (c) of the definition of ‘emergency vehicle’). That would allow them to have red flashing lights. And further written permission from the Commissioner of Police to have blue flashing lights (cl 99(2)).
As a private fire service, even under contract to the Commonwealth, the appliances that are operated by the company for which my correspondent works are not emergency vehicles; they may be special use vehicles. Because they are not emergency vehicles, they cannot have red flashing lights and without written permission from the Commissioner they cannot have blue flashing lights. If they are special use vehicles they may be fitted with orange flashing lights.
Legally fitting red/blue lights would require written permission from the Commissioner of Police.
Would be interesting to know if they only respond on a Defense Force property and why then they would necessarily need red/blue lights, or if they respond also outside a defense base in which case they are probably requested or dispatched by a civilian authority and they should direct their question to that authority.
save that the answer is clear; they cannot have red/blue lights except with the written approval of the Commissioner of Police. That is the answer so I’m not sure what directing their question to any civil authority that makes use of their services would be expected to provide
What about where the lights are used on vehicles on private property.?
Motorsport venues will often have vehicles that display red / blue / green and amber lights, subject to the purpose/function of the vehicle.
This (coloured light and function) is outlined by various Motorsport regulatory bodies in their governing doctrine.
The use of these can be on private property or extend to public roads that have been formally closed (police approval) for the purpose of a Motorsport event.
In my experience in SA, these vehicles and/or drivers have not sought permission from a regulatory body (highways /road transport) or Police to display and use.
Acknowledging that each jurisdiction might have differing legislation, I am confident that this practice occurs in all jurisdictions – how does this bode with your summary above .?? Does private property make a difference.??
on private property you can do what you like. Think of all the farm vehicles that are not registered, not roadworthy and are driven by kids without licences. If it’s not a public street (ie a street accessible by the public not necessarily publicly owned, a car park or a service station is a public street; but a street that’s closed for motorsport is not) then the rules don’t apply
Suggesting that private vehicles respond “to urban fires” as posed by your correspondent, is concerning. I assume this means that the private/industrial/ specific purpose fire service will respond off-patch, if required. In my experience it is rarely required.
I think that the issue of lights on appliances is actually not the problem for private fire services. The problem for private fire services is the red traffic lights at intersections on public roads.
Private fire brigades are notoriously lacking in terms of the need for comprehensive training such as defensive driving, and driving in traffic under emergency conditions. This includes procedures for passing through an intersection against red lights, never demanding right of way, avoiding dangerous situations etc etc.
Added to this, both the RFS and FRNSW have a driver “apprenticeship” for drivers in training whereby a crew member, designated as a driver-in-training is permitted to drive the appliance back to the station in traffic or on general duties in traffic, with a sign affixed to the appliance displaying that the driver is under training . The RMS also assists these training regimes.
Private fire services have no such system. Private or contracted fire services and the like, have very little experience in terms of getting to the scene safely through traffic, and in unfamiliar conditions. This to the extent that fire 000 dispatch centres may generally not call private fire services, because, on assessment they are usually not logged onto the system as a valid and reliable resource.