A big thank you to the residents of the Cottage Point community and Ray Hadley for their support of Oliver.
The NSW Rural Fire Service and the NSW State Government (Mr. Troy Grant is the minister) have done nothing to help Oliver.
The VFFA stands by our earlier warning to all volunteer firefighters that they are at risk of prosecution without support or assistance.
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.
The Volunteer Firefighter almost faced a custodial sentence.
In the days after the alleged incident, some members of the NSW Police who were not involved in the investigation remarked that they would not be interested in this matter because a Police Officer was “not there, they did not see it and no one was injured”.
The same Police Officers also remarked that “no one can judge speed, only the Police. Not the RFS”.
Every single NSW Rural Fire Service Volunteer is at risk if they receive either a pager or phone call seeking their attendance at their local NSW RFS Fire Station, and in order to get there they drive in their private vehicle along a public road, and the road forms part of a ‘Fireground’, then that Volunteer Firefighter is at risk of being accused of speeding, driving through smoke without their hazard Lights on or being on the ‘Fireground’ without approval – even if the traffic controllers allow them to proceed.
The VFFA is deeply concerned that this case sets a precedent; Volunteer Firefighters can be subject to prosecution if salaried staff, without question or any internal investigation, call the NSW Police to report alleged actions of a Volunteer Firefighter based on hearsay. This incident has the potential to seriously damage the reputation of the Rural Fire Service, the relationship between RFS staff and volunteers, and it raises the question:
Why would anyone choose to give up their time with the knowledge that they could find themselves in a similar situation?
The original safety bulletin can be downloaded using the following link (pdf icon):
A Summary of Key Events in a Timeline
- Hazard Reduction scheduled and commenced on Thursday the 20th of November 2016. Deputy Captain Oliver _______ was on route to his station to attend.
- The road to the fire station was the only road to access. Oliver was required to enter the fire ground in his private vehicle after clearly identifying himself to traffic controllers who had closed the road to the public.
- Oliver arrived at his fire station to be formally asked by the Officer-in-charge of the Hazard Reduction, DFCO, Inspector George Sheppard to stand down from starting his shift and wait inside the fire station. Police were called.
- Oliver enquired as to why Police had were called. Inspector Sheppard said that a complaint had been made against Oliver and Police are to investigate. No further detail was shared.
- A Police Officer from Highway Patrol interviewed Oliver (in private) at fire station offices.
- No charges or arrests were made. The Police officer spoke with other RFS staff at the fire station and left.
- After the Police Officer left, Inspector Sheppard held a meeting with Oliver and his Captain. Oliver was informed that a complaint against him had been made by an RFS member, alleging he had drove past another RFS member traveling somewhere between 70 to 80km/h – this was the first time Oliver had been told what he had allegedly committed.
- Almost 4 months of silence from both NSW Police and the RFS. Oliver was later charged by Police with Dangerous Driving to appear in Local Court in May 2017.
- A lengthy 4 day Local court hearing concluded with Oliver being found guilty.
- Oliver immediately appealed and on the 3rd of October 2018, District Court Judge Paul Conlan quashed ALL charges against Oliver. He was completely exonerated.
- Oliver has applied twice for ex-gratia assistance from the Commission of the RFS. One was rejected and the second request with no reply to date (3+ months).
- After Oliver applied the first time for ex gratia assistance, the RFS suspended his RFS membership (Oliver 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 Volunteer’s, Oliver’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 Rural Fire Service Head Office or even locally at Northern Beaches RFS District, been in contact with Oliver to check on his wellbeing.
- To date, Oliver has had zero support from the RFS.
- Now cleared of all charges, Oliver faces legal bills of over $100,000.