In response to my last post on Queensland Road Rules, Jtmarks wrote a comment and said:
You note in your reply, or at least assume, that rural volunteer firefighters can drive an emergency vehicle in Qld under lights and sirens. How I wish that were true! The very sad fact is that a rural fire volunteer, even a volunteer officer, is not a fire officer as defined under the QFRS provisions. Hence, none of the road rule exemptions apply and all rural fire vehicles have to be driven in accordance with all road rules. Would love to be proven wrong. The stupidity of the position is that a rural volunteer officer from interstate is covered, but rural fire volunteers within the State are not. Even a recruit under training for the urban service is technically able to as they are a fire officer as defined.
That struck me as odd, one expects the Rural Fire Service to proceed as any fire brigade and I’m sure that they are issued fire appliances with flashing red lights; so I thought I’d look into it. To go back to the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld);
‘emergency vehicle means a motor vehicle driven by a person who is–
(a) an emergency worker; and
(b) driving the vehicle in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker.’
The critical definition is who is an emergency worker? In Queensland:
emergency worker means–
(a) an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service or an ambulance service of another State; or
(b) an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority or a fire and rescue service of another State; or
(c) an officer or employee of another entity with the written permission of the commissioner.
So who or what is an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority? To answer that, we look at the Fire and Rescue Service Act 1990 (Qld). That Act establishes the Authority (s 8) and tells us that the Authority is made up of the Commissioner and Fire Service Officers. A Fire Service Officer is ‘a person employed under section 25’ (Schedule 6). At least in the normal sense of the word, a volunteer is not employed so a volunteer firefighter is not a ‘fire service officer’ but the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) refers to an ‘officer’, not a ‘fire service officer’.
The Fire and Rescue Service Act 1990 (Qld) uses the word officer in other contexts too. It refers to ‘Authorised fire officers’; that is a fire officer authorised by the Commissioner under s 6A to exercise various powers. A fire officer is not a ‘fire service officer’ (if it meant the same thing, they’d use the same words); rather a fire officer is ‘a person employed in the service who has the functions of fire prevention and fire control, and includes a person employed under this Act who is undergoing training as a fire officer.’ But again we note the reference to a person ‘employed’.
Rural fire brigades, are established under s 79 of the Act. Their first order of business is to elect a ‘first officer’ and such other officers as the brigade considers necessary (s 81). Under s 82(2), the Commissioner ‘must notify a rural fire brigade of the area for which and the circumstances in which the brigade is in charge of fire fighting and fire prevention.’ When a rural fire service is in charge of fire fighting and fire prevention in accordance with that direction, then the first officer, or if the first officer is not available, the next senior officer and any person acting under the direction of that first or next senior officer, has
a) the powers of an authorised fire officer, subject to any limitation imposed by the commissioner; and
b) the control and direction of any person (including any fire officer) whose services are available at the fire. (s 83(1)).
So, even though they are not employed and they are not ‘authorised fire officers’ they have all the powers of an authorised fire officer when acting in the area, and under the circumstances, where their brigade is ‘in charge of fire fighting and fire prevention.’ The powers of an authorised officer are set out in ss 53-60A of the Act and are quite extensive.
Finally, under s 19, the Commissioner may “may delegate the commissioner’s powers under this Act to a fire service officer, an officer of a rural fire brigade, a fire coordinator, a chief fire warden or a fire warden” (emphasis added).
Let us go back to the Road Rules; an emergency worker includes ‘an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority’. As noted there are lots of officers of the QFRS, there are ‘fire service officers’, ‘authorised officer’s and ‘first officers’. The Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) doesn’t use the word ‘fire service officer’ and the inference in statutory interpretation is that the same words mean the same thing, and different words mean different things so if they meant ‘fire service officer’ they would have said so. It follows that the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) is meant to apply to all officers, including a first officer at least to the extent that the reliance on rule 306 is consistent with any direction from the Commissioner under s 82(2) or s 19. It follows that, if they are acting in accordance with an authority under either of those sections, a first officer of a rural fire service is an officer of QFRS and so is an emergency worker.
Whether that gives them any exemption under rule 306 depends on whether the vehicle they are driving has a red flashing light or siren. I don’t know whether Queensland Rural Fire Service vehicles are equipped with red flashing lights but I’d be surprised if they are not; and if they are issued the inference has to be that they are intended to be used. The other questions under rule 306 are
- Is the driver is taking reasonable care? and
- Is it reasonable that the rule should not apply?
As I’ve noted before the answer to question 2 will depend on service policy; if they give a direction or order that drivers are not to drive contrary to the rules that would be evidence to say it is not reasonable that the rule should apply, but it would depend on the circumstances.
If all that’s true then again, the private vehicle if it’s being driven by the first officer or someone under his or her direction in the course of their duties will be an emergency vehicle. Again how ‘in the course of his or her duties’ is defined will depend on service policy – if they authorise people to respond in a private car it might be; if they say ‘do not respond in a private car, make your way to the fire station and collect an appliance, at all times when in your private car complying with the road rules’ then it would not be reasonable to apply any exemption. And again just saying it’s an ‘emergency vehicle’ doesn’t mean much, that doesn’t give an exemption under r 306 unless it is fitted with a red light or siren; and it doesn’t mean that a red light or siren can be fitted. At best it gives an exemption from the parking restrictions contained in Part 12 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld). Rule 307 says:
A provision of part 12 does not apply to the driver of a police vehicle or emergency vehicle if, in the circumstances—
(a) the driver is taking reasonable care; and
(b) it is reasonable that the provision should not apply.
That provision does not require that the vehicle is marked, owned by the QFRS or equipped with warning devices just that it is a vehicle, driven by an emergency worker (which includes an officer of the QFRS) in the course of his or her duties, and it’s reasonable in the circumstances to park where they did.
So my view is that an officer of a rural fire brigade is not a fire service officer, or a fire officer, but they are ‘an’ officer of the QFRS and so they are an emergency worker for the purposes of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) and so any vehicle that they are driving ‘in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker’ is an emergency vehicle.
If anyone wanted to contribute to the debate, I’d be very interested to read any official advice from QFRS particularly if it expresses a contrary interpretation.