DFES preamble

Currently the Bush Fires Act 1954 (the Bush Fires Act), the Fire Brigades Act 1942 (the Fire Brigades Act) and the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998 (the Fire and Emergency Services Act) each have their own provisions regarding response to an incident and how command and control issues are dealt with. Both the Bush Fires Act and the Fire Brigades Act spell out which officers have powers, when they can use the powers and how those officers relate to each other when utilising powers under those Acts.

Currently a number of elements of command and control are prescribed outside of legislation, including WESTPLAN Fire, DFES doctrine and policy and the Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS).

A basic principle of incident control is that only one person should be in command at any time. Whilst other persons will have responsibilities and provide advice, the person controlling the incident must have a legal basis of authority, and be provided with guidance on what can and cannot be delegated. An incident controller should also have appropriate experience, skills and training and is not necessarily appointed on seniority [1].

Transfer of control can take place during an incident and any exchange of this nature must be done in a manner that is easily achieved, but at the same time in a way that ensures accountability.

 


 

5.1 RESPONSE, COMMAND AND CONTROL ARRANGEMENTS

As discussed previously the current emergency services Acts each set out their own provisions for command and control arrangements. The development of a consolidated Act provides the opportunity to provide clarity around the matter. Response, command and control arrangements, including establishing and determining command and control at incidents are a longstanding area of concern amongst emergency service staff and volunteers.

DFES PREFERRED OPTIONS;

5.1.1 Introduce Response Agreements (that include agreement on the primary responder for an area, and details of command and control at incidents)

5.1.2 Until a Response Agreement has been established current arrangements will continue

AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

None of the proposed options can be supported at this time.

AVBFB comments:

The AVBFB understands and supports the need for clarity with regard to response, command and control arrangements. The Association also supports a general principle of utilising regulations and policy where there is not a clear need for issues to be addressed in legislation.

As a consequence, the Association does not believe an informed preference can be provided before the detail of any proposed future legislation is able to be considered.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT SUPPORTED

5.1.3 Response, command and control arrangements not defined in legislation

 


5.2 ENDORSEMENT OF INCIDENT CONTROLLERS

Currently Incident Controllers [1] are endorsed through a state wide process that includes DFES staff, Parks and Wildlife staff and volunteers. This process includes both formal training and practical competency assessments and endorsement is provided through DFES and Parks and Wildlife. The current approach was adopted following the release of A Shared Responsibility: The Report of the Perth Hills Bushfire February 2011 Review (Report on the Perth Hills Bushfire) where Recommendation 54 of stated that:

‘The Interagency Bushfire Management Committee develops a consistent program of education, training (including media), testing and review of Level 3 Incident Controllers.

This should include provision for a formal review of the performance of individual Level 3 Incident Controllers after every incident [2]’

DFES PREFERRED OPTIONS

5.2.1 The FES Commissioner may endorse certain people as ‘Incident Controllers’

AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

5.2.2 Retain current endorsement of ‘Incident Controllers’ through policy

AVBFB comments:

The need for an accreditation process that is seen to be consistent, robust and based purely on merit remains the primary concern of the AVBFB, irrespective of what name is embossed upon the certificate.

It is also essential that the accreditation process includes multiple pathways, at least one of which must allow for endorsement solely through recognition of prior experience with no need for formal academic qualifications.

While the Association is confident that any of the three options presented could (and must) be managed in such a way that engenders absolute confidence in the abilities of those awarded the accreditation, this option appears to provide the least amount of opportunity for the perception of anything other than a worthy and consistent process.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT SUPPORTED

5.2.3 Prescribed parties may endorse certain people as ‘Incident Controllers’

 


 

5.3 TRANSFER OF CONTROL OF INCIDENTS

Transfer of control does not necessarily mean the agency managing the incident changes. For example, the FES Commissioner could use the power under s 13 of the Bush Fires Act to appoint a DFES employee as Incident Controller while the incident is still managed by a local government. The FES Commissioner could also use the power under s 13 to appoint a Chief Bush Fire Control Officer who was already the Incident Controller, for the purposes of providing that Incident Controller additional powers that are provided in the Bush Fires Act.

Currently the legislative arrangements for transferring incident control are limited to fire. These arrangements are set out as follows in the Bush Fires Act:

Section 13 of the Bush Fires Act provides that the FES Commissioner may authorise a person to take control of all operations in the following circumstances:

at the request of a local government or the CALM Act CEO; or

at the discretion of the FES Commissioner due to the nature and extent of the bushfire.

Section 13 of the Bush Fires Act also deals with the powers and duties of a ‘Bush Fire Liaison Officer (BFLO)’ and the interaction with a Bush Fire Control Officer (BFCO).

Under s 45A(1) of the Bush Fires Act a BFCO or member of a brigade may hand supreme control of a bushfire to an authorised CALM Act officer who is present at the fire. For a fire on conservation land the authorised CALM Act officer can hand control to a bush fire officer.

The process(es) associated with the handover or transfer of control has been scrutinised in past reports and reviews.  For example, the Major Incident Review of the Black Cat Creek Fire of 12 October 2012, recommendation 5 states:

‘DFES and DEC [Department of Environment and Conservation] (depending on land tenure) is mandated to take over control of emergency incidents from Local Government once they have declared Level 2 incidents. WESTPLAN BUSHFIRE and legislation be amended accordingly’.

DFES PREFERRED OPTION; AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

5.3.1 The FES Commissioner has power to authorise a person to take control of an incident either upon request or due to the nature and extent of the incident

AVBFB comments:

Subject to the detail of any proposed future legislation, the Association supports the DFES preferred position.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT SUPPORTED

5.3.2 Legislated handover triggers that would require the transfer of control of incidents

 


 

5.4 NOTIFICATION OF INCIDENTS

WESTPLAN Fire establishes DFES Communication Centre (COMCEN) as a key party in the state wide reporting and tracking of fires. As part of this role DFES is to be kept informed of fire incidents occurring across the State, particularly those with the potential to escalate to a level 3 fire [1]. DFES’s ability to manage incidents at a regional or State level is greatly limited if it is not notified of what incidents are occurring across the State.

DFES PREFERRED OPTION; AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

5.4.1 Requirement to notify DFES of all prescribed incidents anywhere in the State

AVBFB comments:

The Association sees no circumstance under which it would be in the interests of the public of Western Australia for DFES to not be notified of a prescribed incident and therefore supports this option, subject to a mutual requirement being made of DFES to notify the relevant local authority/brigade of all prescribed incidents.

If this option is to be made a requirement in proposed future legislation, special consideration must also be given to the very unique circumstances volunteer bush fire brigade members often endure. Any change to legislation that compels a volunteer to undertake added administrative tasks (and presumably suffer some consequence if s/he does not comply), must be accompanied by a commitment to ensure the individual upon who the responsibility falls is provided with every resource required to fulfil the requirements and have ample opportunity to remedy a reporting oversight or error made in good faith.

This is one of many examples of DFES-preferred options in the concept paper that has the full support of the AVBFB in principle but requires an understanding of and sensitivity to a number of practical differences between paid and volunteer personnel. While a paid, “career” firefighter will easily incorporate relatively simple new administrative tasks to their daily work routine, it is critical that those drafting new legislation are aware that the typical volunteer bush fire brigade member works in regional and remote areas, often with limited access to reliable telecommunications equipment and also holds down a completely unrelated full-time ‘day job’.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT SUPPORTED

5.4.2 The new emergency services Act remains silent on the requirement to notify DFES

 


 

5.5 PRESCRIPTION OF RANKS

Section 43 of the Bush Fires Act provides for specific ranks in respect of Bush Fire Brigades. The ranks of members of other Brigades, Groups and Units (BGUs) are not referred to in the emergency services Acts. The Fire Brigades Regulations 1943 refers to rank in respect of volunteer fire brigades [1].

DFES PREFERRED OPTION

5.5.1 The new emergency services Act gives the Minister for Emergency Services the power to set out the rank structures, for all BGUs, in the regulations

AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

5.5.2 Maintain legislated rank structures, for some BGUs

AVBFB comments:

While the AVBFB does not support the general concept of prescriptive legislation, the DFES-preferred option that includes the better alternative of establishing rank structures in regulation also includes the phrase “for all BGUs”. Whether by design or oversight, the “one-size-fits-all” philosophy instilled in those three words, makes this option the best compromise.

The AVBFB sees some merit in a consistent rank structure across all BGUs, but the Association again re-emphasises the need for government to actively reconsider any proposal that may add to the perception of a top-down approach to policy development – unless there is a compelling case for maximum uniformity and/or control.

In order to build better relationships, the AVBFB therefore respectfully recommends an objective evaluation of the actual need for change in this regard given that there is already a clear and functional structure set out in current legislation.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT SUPPORTED

5.5.3 No legislated rank structure

 


 

5.6 BUSH FIRE LIAISON OFFICERS

The Bush Fires Act allows for the FES Commissioner to designate a departmental officer to be a Bush Fire Liaison Officer (BFLO) [1] and sets out the duties and powers of the BFLO [2]. These duties and powers include:

  • exercising the same powers as are available to a Bush Fire Control Officer [3];
  • acting as an advisor to a Bush Fire Control Officer [4]; and
  • being authorised by the FES Commissioner to take control of all operations in relation to a fire [5].

With the consolidation of the current emergency services legislation and preferred options identified elsewhere in this Concept Paper, the need to retain the position of BFLO has been raised.

DFES PREFERRED OPTION

5.6.1 Remove the option for the FES Commissioner to appoint a BFLO

AVBFB PREFERRED OPTION

5.6.2 Retain the option for the FES Commissioner to appoint a BFLO

AVBFB comments:

It is the view of the AVBFB that this option provides a greater opportunity for consideration to be given to the recurring important issue of recognising local issues with regard to volunteer bush fire brigades. The Association further asserts that in appointing a BFLO, a FES Commissioner should not be limited to DFES staff if he or she determines that an appointment from an alternative agency or volunteer community would provide greater insight.

Unless a clearer rationale is provided, the AVBFB cannot support the DFES preferred position of removing the option for a FES Commissioner to appoint a BFLO in proposed future legislation on the basis that it would further erode the level of bush fire-specific expertise within DFES and reduce the connectivity between the Department and the state’s largest emergency service.

 


 

NON-LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

AVBFB comments:

The AVBFB commends the author of the concept paper for observing non-legislative issues raised by stakeholders during consultation and notes that all such issues fall outside the scope of the “Concept Paper: Review of Emergency Services Acts”.

The Association considers some of these items to be extremely important and therefore wishes to put on the record that the lack of comment in this submission does not imply support or otherwise for any of the issues published under the heading of “non-legislative issues” in this or other chapters.

Further, the AVBFB respectfully but strongly urges the government to explicitly seek comment from the Association and other stakeholders before seeking to address any of the issues identified as not within the scope of this paper.

 


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