This question relates to:

A NSW RFS volunteer [who] had his name presented to the Government for a Bushfire Citation and the National Emergency Medal. Both awards were awarded.

The volunteer, has not received the awards as the RFS refuses to give them to him.

My question is, ‘Who owns the award’?

Let me, as a first point, say that in answering the question that I do not endorse the claim ‘the RFS refuses’ to give the awards. I don’t know what’s happening and whether it’s a refusal, an administrative oversight, waiting for an appropriate time or event etc. But we can accept that the volunteer has not received the medal.

It is hard to find the criteria for the award of the NSW Premier’s Bushfire Citation. I am unable to find an official site but a social media site says:

To be awarded the NSW Premier’s Bushfire Emergency Citation, the following criteria must be met:

1. The recipient was a member of a combat agency, emergency services organisation or supporting agency called upon by the lead combat agency to perform duties as part of an operational response to the bushfires.

2. The recipient has performed operational response duties within the event period.
Operational response duties include activities performed as part of the operational response to the event, including the process of combating the emergency and of providing immediate relief for persons effected by the emergency. The activities undertaken, either on a voluntary or paid basis, must include at least one or more of the following:
• front-line operational response
• incident management
• incident support
There is no minimum duty, or consecutive days of duty, expressed for this bushfire event award criteria.

Clearly the award is given to the named recipient.

The official website for Australian Honours says that the criteria for the National Emergency Medal ‘is awarded to persons who rendered sustained or significant service during nationally-significant emergencies in Australia’ including the 2019-2020 bushfires

Once the award is issued it must be issued to the named recipient. It may be given to the RFS to pass on the award, but the RFS must hold that as a bailee. A bailee is a person who receives goods – ie possession – for a particular purpose but without receiving ownership.  When you deliver your car to a mechanic, they are a bailee, they have possession for a limited purpose but do not thereby own the vehicle.  In context, if the RFS is given the award for the purpose of delivering the award to the member then the RFS is a bailee not an owner.

I’m not sure who the owner is – it could be the issuing authority until it is passed to the recipient, or it could be the recipient. Generally to transfer ownership the owner has to deliver the item to a person with the intention of transferring the ownership – there needs to be actual delivery.  The issuing handing the award to the RFS may be sufficient given their intention and the terms of bailment to transfer ownership, or it may not. I would need more information on the whole process. But, as I say, the owner has to be either the issuing authority (the Department of Premier and Cabinet in the case of the bushfire citation; the Governor-General in the case of the National Emergency Medal) or the intended recipient.  It cannot be the RFS.

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 Association and the 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.