Today’s question comes from ‘Concerned and Confused Victorians’ but I would infer it’s more specific and is ‘Concerned and Confused volunteers with Victoria SES’.  They say:

Over the previous 12 months, we VICSES volunteers have been in many awkward situations across the state in many locations since the introduction of FRV [Fire Rescue Victoria] being challenged on response to jobs.

After reading your recent correspondence relating to the Fire Rescue Victoria Act Section 32 [see Response issues for Fire Rescue Victoria (July 23, 2021)], I pose the following questions as an extension:

1) With the introduction of the State Emergency Management Plan (SEMP), does this ‘trump’ agencies Acts, namely Victoria State Emergency Service Act and the Fire Rescue Victoria Act.  For example:

Vehicle into Structure, who may the control agency be? Is there a difference between being in an FRV District, vs outside in another area of the state. Who is the control agency for Vehicle into Structure with Building Damage in the current arrangements with consideration to the Acts/SEMP?

Road Rescue: Given the Road Crash Rescue Arrangements within Victoria are the main driver and rule book for the response of Road Rescue, is there anything within the CFA, VICSES or FRV Acts that override the Arrangements or are the arrangements the effective rule book of response?

2) The Fire Rescue Victoria Act within Section 32 indicates this ‘other type of emergencies’ – what is this? is this referenced anywhere? Does this mean that the VICSES primary responsibilities are now assumed by FRV within their ‘Districts’ or is this a presumption by some FRV Officers?

3) With question number one front of mind, what is FRV’s obligation to respond outside of an FRV District for road rescue, and other emergencies?

4) Within the VICSES act, when being compared to the FRV and CFA Acts, is VICSES an equal with regards to being required to respond to emergencies. Is this overseen by the SEMP at any part or are they not exclusive of each other.

I’m not going to get into the detail of each question. The Victorian emergency services in particular FRV, the CFA and Victoria SES are each established by an Act of Parliament. This Act sets up the organisation, gives it the powers it needs to function and sets out in broad terms why it is there.

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) s 14).

The functions of Fire Rescue Victoria are set out in the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (1958) (Vic) s 7. They include:

(a)        to provide for fire suppression and fire prevention services in the Fire Rescue Victoria fire district; and

(b)       to provide for emergency prevention and response services in the Fire Rescue Victoria fire district; and

(ba)      to implement the fire and emergency services priorities of the Government of Victoria; and

(bb)     to provide operational and management support to the Country Fire Authority in consultation with and as agreed by the Authority, to meet the Authority’s objective under section 6B of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958, including support to maintain, strengthen and encourage the capability of volunteers; and

(c)        to carry out any other functions conferred on Fire Rescue Victoria by or under this Act or the regulations or any other Act or any regulations under that Act.

The functions of Victoria SES (Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005 (Vic) s 5) are to provide:

(a)        [deleted]

(b)       emergency response including—

(i)         responding to floods, earthquakes and storms and their effects;

(ii)        providing rescue services;

(c)        emergency support including—

(i)         assisting other agencies and organisations in relation to the performance and exercise of their duties and responsibilities under the Emergency Management Act 2013 ;

(ii)        acting in accordance with emergency management arrangements under the Emergency Management Act 2013 ;

(iii)       assisting search and rescue for persons lost on land or in Victorian waters;

(d)       other authorised emergency activities including—

(i)         co-ordinating and engaging in other emergency activities for the purposes of this Act;

(ii)        participating in civil defence activities;

(iii)       engaging in any other emergency activities for the purpose of carrying out any other functions conferred on the Authority by or under any other Act.

The definition of emergency is given in the Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) s 3. It says:

“emergency” means an emergency due to the actual or imminent occurrence of an event which in any way endangers or threatens to endanger the safety or health of any person in Victoria or which destroys or damages, or threatens to destroy or damage, any property in Victoria or endangers or threatens to endanger the environment or an element of the environment in Victoria including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing—

(a)        an earthquake, flood, wind-storm or other natural event; and

(b)       a fire; and

(c)        an explosion; and

(d)       a road accident or any other accident; and

(e)        a plague or an epidemic or contamination; and

(f)        a warlike act or act of terrorism, whether directed at Victoria or a part of Victoria or at any other State or Territory of the Commonwealth; and

(g)        a hi-jack, siege or riot; and

(h)       a disruption to an essential service;

You can see the scope for duplication. If Victoria SES are providing ‘rescue services’ and FRV are providing emergency response services and an emergency includes a road accident then there could be confusion.

Enter Emergency Management Victoria, the Emergency Management Commissioner and the State Emergency Management Plan. All three services are required to ‘collaborate and consult with Emergency Management Victoria’ (Victoria SES Act s 4B; Fire Rescue Victoria Act s 7AB; Country Fire Authority Act s 6C). Each must carry out their ‘functions in accordance with the operational standards developed by the Emergency Management Commissioner’ (Victoria SES Act s 4C; Fire Rescue Victoria Act s 7AC; Country Fire Authority Act s 6D).

The Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) provides for ‘class 1’ and ‘class 2’ emergencies. Relevantly a class 1 emergency is ‘any … major emergency for which Fire Rescue Victoria, the Country Fire Authority or the Victoria State Emergency Service Authority is the control agency under the state emergency management plan’.  The State Emergency Management Plan (SEMP) is a ‘plan to provide for an integrated, coordinated and comprehensive approach to emergency management at a State level’ (s 60AD)).

To get to the gist of the questions, the SEMP provides who is to be the ‘control agency’. ‘Control’ is, according to the SEMP (p. 19) ‘the direction of response activities across agencies, horizontally, including the coordination and tasking of other agencies’. Victoria Police is the control agency for ‘road … accidents/incidents … (unless otherwise designated)’.  FRV is the control agency within ‘the FRV Fire District’ for ‘rescue of persons from … road, … accidents’. Vic SES is the control agency for ‘rescue incidents involving rail, aircraft and industrial, road, and building structures’.

To reiterate that I’m not going to go into the details my answers to the questions are:

1)         If you like, the Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) and the SEMP ‘trumps’ the individual Acts. I’m not keen on that language but certainly the agency have to work with EMV, the Emergency Management Commissioner and work to the SEMP. The Acts that establish the agencies create the tools, the SEMP is the plan on how they will work together. If you want to call that ‘trumps’, fair enough.

The control agency for managing the response to a motor vehicle accident is Victoria Police; unless rescue is required in which case it’s FRV within the FRV Fire District’ and outside that district, it’s the SES.

2)         The definition of ‘emergency’ has been given above. This does not mean ‘VICSES primary responsibilities are now assumed by FRV within their ‘Districts’’. Who is the control agency, as the answer to q 2 shows, depends on the SEMP.

3)         As part of the all hazards all agencies response, FRV’s duty to respond outside the FRV district would depend on it being tasked by the relevant control agency (Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (Vic) s 55E).

4)         The three emergency services, FRV, CFA and Victoria SES have similar legislation designed to ensure they work together but subject to the oversight of the Emergency Management Commissioner and in accordance with plans starting with the SEMP.   I don’t know the lived experience but according to their legislation they are ‘equal with regards to being required to respond to emergencies’ in accordance with the SEMP and relevant directions from the Emergency Management Commissioner.