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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.

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