Today’s correspondent has:
… a question about the specific wording of section 38 in the Queensland Ambulance Service Act, namely the meaning around “…in providing ambulance services…”
Is it your opinion then that the powers are limited to only when paramedics are engaged on duty on a rostered shift, or would this extend to an off-duty officer with the relevant powers when they are on duty and happen to come across an incident off duty then volunteer and assist?
The Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld) s 38 says:
(1) An authorised officer, in providing ambulance services, may take any reasonable measures—
(a) to protect persons from any danger or potential danger associated with an emergency situation; and
(b) to protect persons trapped in a vehicle, receptacle, vessel or otherwise endangered; and
(c) to protect themselves or other officers or persons from danger, potential danger or assault from other persons.
(2) Without limiting the measures that may be taken for a purpose specified in subsection (1) (a) or (b), an authorised officer may, for that purpose—
(a) enter any premises, vehicle or vessel; and
(b) open any receptacle, using such force as is reasonably necessary; and
(c) bring any apparatus or equipment onto premises; and
(d) remove from or otherwise deal with, any article or material in the area; and
(e) destroy (wholly or partially) or damage any premises, vehicle, vessel or receptacle; and
(f) cause the gas or electricity supply or motor or any other source of energy to any premises, vehicle, vessel or receptacle to be shut off or disconnected; and
(g) request any person to take all reasonable measures to assist the authorised officer; and
(h) administer such basic life support and advanced life support procedures as are consistent with the training and qualifications of the authorised officer.
(3) Without limiting the measures that may be taken for a purpose specified in subsection (1) (c) , an authorised officer may, for that purpose, require any person not to enter into or remain within a specified area around the site of the danger to a patient.
An ‘authorised officer’ is (s 37) a service officer authorised by the Commissioner:
… to exercise—
(a) all the powers conferred by this Act on an authorised officer; or
(b) any power or class of power conferred by this Act on an authorised officer.
A ‘service officer’ is an employed ambulance or medical officer or other staff member (Schedule 1, definition of ‘service officer’ and s 13(1)).
It is a function of Queensland Ambulance to ‘provide, operate and maintain ambulance services’ (s 3D(1)(a)) and ‘for ambulance services provided during rescue and other related activities—to protect persons from injury or death, whether or not the persons are sick or injured’ (s 3D(1)(b)).
Queensland Ambulance cannot act but through its staff. It is only through its employees and volunteers that it can meet its functions and provide ‘ambulance services’. Whilst a person remains an employee, even when they are not at work, I would read s 38 with reference to s 3D. That is the Commissioner employs people, and authorises them to exercise emergency powers so that the ambulance service can meet its obligation to provide ‘ambulance services’. The authorised officer who is providing ‘ambulance services’ is ensuring that QAS meets its functions. In my view that means when the officer is ‘at work’ or at least providing those services in accordance with their authorisation.
If QAS has standing procedures about members providing assistance when off duty eg if the authorisation issued under s 37 says that it applies whether on or off duty, or if there is a process to recall a member to duty when they are, or have attended an emergency, then the authority in s 38 could be extended to them. My reading, however, based on ss 3D and 38 is that the an ‘authorised officer’ is providing ‘ambulance services’ when he or she is providing them as part of QAS and that means whilst they are ‘on duty’.
There is also a certain amount of ‘reality’ to be imposed here. If an off-duty paramedic tried to use those powers, in good faith, and a person wanted to complain about their conduct, or worse, sue them, then a court may be quite sympathetic and decide that they do apply ‘off duty’. If, on the other hand, the off duty paramedic has been officious, over bearing or unreasonable, then a court may want to find that they do not apply. If the matter ever came to litigation the result may well depend on the assessment of both the paramedic’s conduct and the conduct of anyone who was trying to complain.
My opinion based on the Act is that the powers listed in s 38 are ‘limited to only when paramedics are engaged on duty on a rostered shift’.
It is arguable that it could extend to off duty paramedics, but I don’t think that is consistent with the wording of ss 3D and 38 taken together. Whether it would extend to off duty paramedics would also depend on the terms of any authorisation issued under s 37 and specific terms of employment about providing care when ‘off duty’.
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.