Category: Bullying and Harassment

NSW Government’s response to the final report of the inquiry into the Emergency Services Agencies

Included in this post is a copy of the NSW Governments response to the final report of the NSW Legislative Council, Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs entitled Emergency Services Agencies, tabled with the Clerk of the Legislative Council on 24 July 2018.

The inquiry began in July of 2017 and the final report of the NSW Legislative Council, Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs was published in July of 2018.

The NSW Government’s response is a disgrace.

Two Volunteer Firefighters, both in legal battles.

One gets legal support and a full-time job.

The other gets a $100,000 legal bill after being cleared in court.

Mr Grant (Minister for Emergency Services), how is this fair?
Your response is a disgrace.

From a VFFA perspective, if you are a volunteer of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and you find yourself in any type of trouble, you cannot rely on the RFS for support.

The level of support offered will depend upon:

  • Who you know,
  • Who you run with,
  • Your affiliations (RFSA or VFFA), and
  • Your loyalty to the hierarchy without question.

A Tale of Two Firefighters

Before we tell you the tale of two firefighters, I draw your attention to Recommendation 13, which states:

That the NSW Rural Fire Service review the processes and criteria in place for considering requests for legal assistance by volunteers and staff, to ensure that this support is provided in all appropriate cases.

Final report of the NSW Legislative Council

This was the NSW Government’s response:

Ex gratia legal assistance is provided as appropriate in accordance with the NSW Government guidelines contained in Ml999-11 Guidelines for the Provision of ex Gratia legal Assistance for Ministers, Public Officials and Crown Employees. All NSW RFS members receive the same access to ex gratia legal assistance, with determination of eligibility resting with the Secretary of the Department of Justice.

NSW Government’s Response

The VFFA has not raised this comparison previously because we have attempted to avoid any additional stress upon the two firefighters involved. We are now forced to publish this comparison (without too much detail at this time) and we will ramp up our campaign against the Minister for Emergency Services, Troy Grant and the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian until firefighter number two receives the support that he deserves.

Firefighter One

Firefighter One was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in loss of life.

Firefighter One was quoted as saying that he would not have been able to cope ­without the support of the RFS and the Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA).

“The RFS has been 100 per cent supportive,” he said. “They have been supporting me as much as they can.”

He said both the RFS and its association made it “easier to go through a journey that I have”.

Firefighter Two

It is a very different story for Firefighter Two.

Firefighter Two was helping out at a hazard reduction. 

The road to the fire station was the only road to access.

He was required to enter the fire ground in his private vehicle once clearly identifying himself to traffic controllers who had closed the road to the public. 

After arriving at his fire station, he was formally asked by an RFS staff member, to stand down from starting his shift on the fire truck and wait inside the fire station. Police were called.

No charges or arrests were made by Police at the time of the alleged incident.

Almost 4 months of silence from both NSW Police and the RFS, Firefighter Two was charged by Police with Dangerous Driving to appear in Local Court.

The District Court Judge, Paul Conlan, later quashed ALL charges against Firefighter Two, he was completely exonerated.

Firefighter Two has applied twice for ex-gratia assistance. 

After Firefighter two applied for the first time for ex gratia assistance, the RFS suspended his RFS membership (he had only been charged at this stage, not attended local court) stating the reason he was found guilty of a criminal charge. 

After reviewing the RFS’s own Standard Operation Procedures for RFS Firefighter Two’s solicitor successfully appealed his suspension and he was re-inducted as a RFS volunteer with full rights again.

At no stage since the alleged incident (over a 2 year period), has anyone from the NSW RFS Head Office or even locally at Northern Beaches RFS District has been in contact with Firefighter two to check on his wellbeing 

To date, Firefighter Two has had zero support from the RFS.

Cleared of all charges, he now faces legal bills of over $100,000.

Firey’s Charge Extinguished

With reference to the article by Emma Partridge, that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 5th October 2018, titled Firey’s Charge Extinguished.
The article stated that Police never saw it, no one was hurt, but it still took two years and $74,000 for a Rural Fire Service volunteer to overturn a conviction for driving dangerously during a hazard reduction burn.
VFFA President, Mick Holton talks to Shoalhaven CBF about this terrible situation.
Listen to the interview here.
This situation was so unbelievable that others who were not privy to the full transcript were judging Oliver as being guilty, saying things like “he must be guilty, how else could it have gone on for so long”.
But, this is a case of bullying and harassment at a local level that quickly got out of control. It became a very ugly and costly, fuelled by coverups, deceit and atrocious behaviour by representatives of the Rural Fire Service right to the top.

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VFFA President talks to Graeme Gilbert (2SM Super Radio Network) about RFS Reform

The media has become interested in the need for major reform after the release of the NSW Upper House report, entitled Emergency Services Agencies NSW.
The audio file (below) was captured on Wednesday 25th July, by a VFFA supporter as he listened to an interview with the VFFA President, Mick Holton by Graeme Gilbert of the 2SM Super Radio Network.
Mr Gilbert gave our association approximately twenty eight minutes of air time.
The 2SM Super Radio Network broadcasts across Sydney, many rural and regional areas of NSW.
Comments and feedback are most welcome.
The audio file is provided is this post.

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VFFA response to the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Bullying and Harassment in the NSW Emergency Services

The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) President Mick Holton says he is encouraged by the release of the NSW Upper House report, entitled Emergency Services Agencies NSW.

The report focused heavily upon bullying and harassment in the NSW Emergency Services.

“The report confirms what many NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers have known for a long time – that bullying, harassment and abuse of power is occurring in the RFS” said Mr. Holton.

“The VFFA recognises the courage of RFS volunteers and salaried staff in coming forward and working with the Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs, during this Upper House inquiry.”

“Volunteering with the RFS should be non-threatening, respectful, safe and free from all forms of bullying and harassment.”

“All volunteers have the right not to bullied or discriminated against in the RFS” said Mr. Holton.

“We are pleased to continue to lead and to participate in efforts to support volunteers who have suffered bullying and harassment in the RFS and will continue to challenge and call out this unacceptable behaviour,” said Mr. Holton.

The VFFA welcomes the release of the report and calls on NSW Government and the RFS to adopt all the recommendations of the Upper House Inquiry into Emergency Service Agencies.

Major Reform is Required.

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NSW RFS Volunteers at Risk of Prosecution without Support or Assistance

On Wednesday 6th December 2017, a day after International Volunteer Day, a Sydney based Volunteer Firefighter was convicted of dangerous driving in a Local Court case that was heard over three days. The Volunteer was charged by the NSW Police some months after the Police attended a Hazard Reduction Burn.

The Police attended following a phone call from a paid staff member of the NSW Rural Fire Service (the RFS) reporting an alleged incident. The volunteer was on route to the fire station to assist with a pre-planned hazard reduction burn. The matter was reported to the Police without the RFS taking any steps to investigate the allegations internally, or to even hear the Volunteer’s account of the event.

Legal costs to protect the good name of this Volunteer are now in the tens’ of thousands of dollars and the Volunteer Firefighter was sentenced and ordered to pay a $750 fine and had his license suspended for a 12-month period The legal proceedings have been underway for approximately 14 months, they have taken an incredible toll on the volunteer, his family and brigade.

The Volunteer has not received any support or communication from the NSW RFS.

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We cannot respond to anonymous requests

It is very important that we inform our readers that information provided by anonymous persons is noted and followed up where possible, but the level of support and assistance could be limited if we are unable to correspond with people who remain anonymous to the VFFA.

The privacy of our members, volunteers and whistle-blowers will always be treated as the highest priority when dealing with information provided.

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Rural Fire Service faces accusations of bullying and nepotism

With the state already facing “extreme” bushfire risks with hot and dry weather, a parliamentary inquiry has heard of allegations of bullying and nepotism within the Rural Fire Service. The hearing was told by vice-president of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association that the community could no longer be protected.

At the public Emergency Services Agency hearing, chaired by Shooters and Fishers’ Robert Borsak, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was quizzed by Greens member David Shoebridge after it was revealed 48 per cent of RFS members had witnessed bullying while 18 per cent had been victims of bullying and that “only two people have been dismissed because of it”.

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