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Tankers trailers, slip-ons and other privately owned fire appliances must be recognised by the NSW State Government as viable firefighting capability. Unfortunately, there are many reported instances in NSW, where farmers have been prevented from using their own equipment and have been isolated from their properties by unnecessary (according to local knowledge) Police road blocks.

The video (below) was published by the CFA – Oct 25, 2017.

Private fire appliances and the CFA

By M Eburn – December 2, 2017

Click HERE for original content.

A correspondent has sent a link to a YouTube video where the CFA discusses the valuable role played by private fire appliances.

VFFA Note: You can see the video (above) or click HERE to watch on YouTube.

My correspondent:

Was curious on the legal implications- their privately owned by CFA vols. Is there issues for insurance, liability, road-worthiness, etc? I gather from the video, that the use of these is endorsed by the CFA. I wonder if they have MOU’s or similar in place.

I can’t see much in the way of legal implications or issues.  The vehicles need to be registered if they are going to be driven off private property.  If they are registered they will carry compulsory third party insurance. This ensures that the driver or owner is not personally liable for any injuries received from the use of the vehicle (Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) and Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic)).

If they are registered they will also have met whatever roadworthy tests or conditions are applied to those vehicles given their age, size etc.

In terms of damage that may be done to property in the event of a collision then there would be an issue if the vehicle is not insured.

Section 92 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) provides extensive immunity to members of the CFA. From the video, it would appear that the people responding in these private vehicles are indeed members of the CFA acting under the direction of the CFA. There is no reason to think that s 92 would not apply just because they are driving private, rather than CFA owned appliance.  (And for a discussion on private appliances and the road rules, see Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit revisited (May 21, 2014)).

A CFA incident controller would have to consider the safety of the vehicles when considering where to despatch them. Using these vehicles may be riskier than a modern appliance with heat shields and defensive sprinklers but risk assessment is always a balancing act. One can take into account the benefit to be gained (without private appliances response rates would be slower and there would be fewer appliances to assist with the fire which in turn might increase the risk of the fire doing more damage) and consider what the risk is. With local landowners using their own appliances on land they are familiar with and with CFA training the risks can be mitigated.  The IC does have to consider risk but that is necessarily true in all cases.  The IC has to deploy the appropriate equipment to deal with the task at hand

The CFA, like most Australian firefighting services, grew out of a self-help response. Farmers and locals saw the need for fire brigades so they created their own. Eventually these were brought together under the umbrella of an organisation like the CFA to standardise their equipment and practices and to facilitate training.  But farmers and private landowners will still be first responders and will still set about trying to extinguish fires on their land, or their neighbours land. To that end no doubt they will buy and have firefighting equipment that also serves other useful purposes on the land.

An organisation like the CFA can try to pretend that they are ‘in control’ and that only the CFA can fight fires, and that one can only use the latest high-tech equipment but such a belief would simply not reflect reality.  Alternatively, organisations like the CFA can, and clearly do, recognise that people are able to provide services for their own protection and it’s better to work with them.  In short the CFA could refuse to allow private appliances on the fire ground because of fear of ‘the legal implications’ but that won’t stop those appliances being there, nor would it stop locals choosing to fight the fire rather than calling the CFA (see Self help firefighting in Victoria (August 30, 2014) and Neighbours helping neighbours during a Victorian bushfire and the powers of the CFA (November 28, 2014)).

Conclusion

Without someone raising specific issues I can’t see any significant legal issues or at least any that can’t be managed by the procedures set out in the video, which talk about training, communications, operating guidelines and checklist for the use of the units.  As the video acknowledges, the use of the appliances does bring risks but with appropriate planning the benefits outweigh the risks.  I have no reason to doubt that conclusion.

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