In my last post, ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t – what to do about personal hazard reduction’, 22 October 2013, I provided a commentary on a story in the Midland Express regarding unapproved hazard reduction burns. My correspondent, Luke, has pointed out that the caption to the photo in that story says “Macedon Lodge staff denied access to the property while vegetation removal was underway earlier this month. Even the CFA was refused entry when crews responded to callouts to smoke sighting.” He asks whether the CFA needs permission to enter the property?
The clear answer is ‘no, they don’t’. Section 30 of the Country Fires Act 1958 (Vic) says:
30. Powers of officers at fires
(1) Where the Chief Officer believes on reasonable grounds that there is danger of fire occurring or where a fire is burning or has recently been extinguished anywhere within the country area of Victoria the Chief Officer for the purpose of preventing the occurrence of a fire, of extinguishing or restricting the spread of the fire or of protecting life or property shall have and may exercise the following powers and authorities: …
(c) He shall have authority either alone or with others under his command to enter upon any land house building or premises and if necessary to force open any outer or inner doors of any house or building which may be on fire or in the near neighbourhood of any fire for the purpose of taking any steps which he deems necessary for any of the purposes aforesaid, and he may take or give directions for taking any apparatus required to be used at a fire into through or upon any land house building or premises which he considers convenient for the purpose;
The Chief Officer acts by delegating his authority to members of the CFA (see s 28). If the CFA has received a call to smoke and can see smoke that would, I suggest, give the officer delegated to exercise the Chief Officer’s powers, reasonable grounds to believe that a fire is occurring.
Fire brigades are there to advance the community interest by extinguishing the fire, they are not there to protect the land owners private interests (see all the previous posts on why fire services are not liable to individuals if they fail to extinguish their fire; see ). Because they are there to extinguish a fire for the community’s benefit, not the land owners, relying on the land owner’s consent would be contrary to the purposes of the Act and so all fire brigades have the power to enter private property to investigate and if necessary, fight a fire (see for example Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958 (Vic) s 32B).
That does not mean that the objections of the land owner should not be considered. If the CFA are satisfied that there is no fire or not action is required they would not need to enter property without consent. Equally if the occupier is adamant that they will resist the CFA the prudent approach would be to call the police and let them ‘negotiate’ access.
At the end of the day, however, if the CFA, or the MFB, or NSW RFS (Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 22, but see also ss 29-32; see also “Entering private land to fight a bushfire in NSW”, 16 June 2013) or Queensland Fire and Rescue (Fire and Rescue Service Act 1990 (Qld) s 53) or any other fire brigade believe there is a fire burning on a property, they man enter that property in order to fight the fire and they do not need the permission of the occupier or owner, and may enter even if the owner/occupier specifically tells them that they cannot.