A correspondent who serves with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) says:
My Local Government was merged in the 2016 Stronger Communities program.
Our local government area, the now Murrumbidgee Council was created by the former Murrumbidgee Shire Council assuming control of the former Jerilderie Shire Council.
The NSW Rural Fire Service advised us that the districts would have to be ‘merged’ due to the local government being split between the Mid Murray and MIA Zones, but this is yet to occur. The NSW Rural Fire Service website currently refers to the areas as Murrumbidgee North and Murrumbidgee South.
My understanding is that the Jerilderie (Rural Fire District (RFD) would have to be pushed into the Murrumbidgee RFD per the legislation referenced below. Could you confirm or provide further reference material.
The website for the Murrumbidgee Council says:
History of our Council
At 12:10 pm on Thursday 12 May 2016 Jerilderie Shire Council and Murrumbidgee Shire Council ceased to exist.
The two former Councils became part of a new Council proclaimed as “Murrumbidgee Council”.
The merger created a new Local Government Area of 6,680 sq km with a population of 4,047. It encompassed the communities of Jerilderie, Coleambally and Darlington Point.
The Rural Fire Service and Rural Fire Districts
The RFS has a number of functions including the provision of ‘rural fire services for New South Wales’ (s 9(1)(a)). Rural fire services include (emphasis added) ‘services for the prevention, mitigation and suppression of fires in rural fire districts’. In ‘fire districts’ fire services are provided by Fire and Rescue NSW (Fire and Rescue NSW Act 1989 (NSW) ss 5 and 5A).
The Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) says:
6 Rural fire districts
(1) A rural fire district is constituted by this section for the area of each local authority, with boundaries of the district being the same as the boundaries of the area as at the date of commencement of this section. (3) If the boundaries of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted by this section change after the commencement of this section, the boundaries of the rural fire district change so as to correspond to the boundaries of the area.
(2) A rural fire district is not constituted by this section for, and does not include, any land within an area that is within a fire district.
(3) If the boundaries of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted by this section change after the commencement of this section, the boundaries of the rural fire district change so as to correspond to the boundaries of the area.
(4) If the whole of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted by this section is dissolved after the commencement of this section, the rural fire district is dissolved.
(5) If part of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted is dissolved after the commencement of this section, the rural fire district constituted for the area is taken to have been constituted for the remaining part of the area.
Pursuant to s 6 of the RFS Act, the establishment, and amendment of the rural fire district occurs on the changes to local government areas. There is nothing the Rural Fire Service needs to do to make the changes, they are automatic. What follows is that the area of Jerilderie Shire and the area of Murrumbidgee Shire were both rural fire districts. When the councils merged, a new rural fire district was established, subject to any area that was excluded as a ‘fire district’. To put that in simple terms the RFS provided fire services in both the old and new council areas, excepting areas in any of the larger towns where Fire and Rescue NSW provided the fire services.
RFS districts and Zones
There is a difference between rural fire districts and RFS administrative arrangements. The RFS website is ambiguous. It refers to ‘Our Districts’ but then discusses various ‘districts’ and ‘Zones’. The website refers to (emphasis added):
- “The MIA district incorporates the six local government areas of Carrathool, Griffith, Hay, Leeton, Murrumbidgee and Narrandera”; and
- “The Mid Murray Zone (MMZ) incorporates the local government areas of Murray River, Edward River, and the Murrumbidgee local government area south of Coleambally.”
A map shows the various boundaries. It shows that area 37, Mid Murray Zone includes the local government areas (and therefore the fire districts) of Edward River, Murray River and Murrumbidgee. The MIA district (number 36 on the map) covers Carrathool, Griffith, Hay, Leeton and Narrandera. There is a line that the key says is the border between the RFS districts even though it cuts through the Murrumbidgee local government area and therefore the Murrumbidgee rural fire district.
The inference is that the concepts of a ‘Zone’, and the less frequent term ‘district’ are references to administrative arrangement where the RFS has created a level of management that groups together a number of local government areas and the brigades within that area. An RFS district (eg the MIA district) and an RFS Zone (eg the Mid-Murray Zone) are not rural fire districts as defined by s 6 of the Act. That is clear when we see that the MIA district (created by the RFS for administration/management purposes) contains at least six ‘rural fire districts’ (each crated by the RFS Act). There is nothing to either require or stop the Commissioner making those sort of administrative arrangements.
Pursuant to s 6 the rural fire districts that were defined by the borders of Jerilderie Shire Council and Murrumbidgee Shire Council have ceased to exist and have been replaced by a rural fire district that covers the area of the Murrumbidgee Council less any land that is part of a declared ‘fire district’. That process was automatic (RFS Act s 6) and it means that the RFS is responsible for providing fire services in that area.
How the RFS organises itself is a matter for the RFS. For the management of the RFS and the provision of rural fires services the RFS has created administrative Zones or Rural Fire Service (as opposed to rural fire) districts. It is open to the Commissioner to split the management of the service across the fire district that is to assign ‘the Murrumbidgee local government area south of Coleambally’ to one Zone, and the rest of the fire district to another Zone or district. This is not inconsistent with the Rural Fires Act s 6. That section defines where the RFS is responsible for the provision of fire services but is not about the administration of the RFS or how management responsibilities are allocated.
This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Associationand NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.