This question comes from a CFA volunteer. It is
… a question relating to social media in particular the posting of photos by CFA members whilst at an emergency. There are a range of policies, etc governing this but I am concerned that these are written by anti social media Execs. I also have a firm belief that locals who are near or in the path of the fire would appreciate me as a responder (if safe to do so) taking photo and posting these on social media. If I posted photos of fires in particular bushfires, could I argue that I am supporting the organisation to comply with S50B of the CFA Act?
I’ve made a number of posts about taking photos – see:
- Taking photos, recording sound (February 23, 2015);
- Taking photos on the fireground in South Australia (January 9, 2015);
- Lifesavers as law enforcers? (July 6, 2014);
- Taking photos whilst on duty with the NSW RFS – amended (October 26, 2013)
- US legislation on taking photos at emergency scenes (August 24, 2012); and
- The use of photos taken at accident and emergency scenes (August 6, 2011).
But this question relates to the use of photos and s 50B of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic). Section 50B says:
Duty to warn the community
(1) The Chief Officer must issue warnings and provide information in relation to fires in the country area of Victoria if—
(b) the Chief Officer considers that the issuing of warnings or the provision of information is necessary for the purposes of protecting life and property.
(2) The Chief Officer must have regard to any guidelines, procedures or operating protocols issued by the Emergency Management Commissioner under section 44 of the Emergency Management Act 2013 for the purposes of carrying out a duty under subsection (1).
(Section 50B(1)(a) was repealed in 2013 so the omission of paragraph (a) is not a mistake).
The CFA may establish volunteer brigades and ‘every brigade … and all officers and members of brigades … shall be under the order and control of the Chief Officer’ (s 27). The Chief Officer may delegate his power or authority to a person or office holder approved by the CFA (s 28).
The duty to warn the community is a duty vested in the Chief Officer and he or she may delegate that obligation to others. The obvious person to receive that delegation would be an incident controller who would set up the necessary team within the IMT. The Chief Officer is unlikely to delegate his or her authority to a front line fire fighter.
There is no general duty or power upon anyone to ‘assist’ the CFA and it certainly would not be regarded as assistance for a person to undertake, on their own initiative, some action in the belief that it would assist. For example a private citizen who observes a bushfire could not seriously light a fire as a ‘back burn’ and claim some immunity because they were intending to ‘assist’ the CFA.
Equally a firefighter taking a photo and posting it on a website is not assisting the CFA Chief Officer to meet his or her obligations. In some circumstances such action may actually hinder the Chief Officer or his or her delegate.
The Chief Officer has ultimate control of all brigades and their members and can set out the policies and procedures that they are to follow. It is not up to members to decide that they don’t need to comply because in their view, the policies are badly written, ill-informed or not helpful.
My earlier posts have addressed the issues of taking photos at the scene of an emergency. The presence of s 50B in the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) does not affect those answers. A person, whether a fire fighter or not, cannot argue that posting photos on social media is a legitimate exercise of the powers or obligations set out in s 50B nor is it somehow justified as ‘supporting the organisation [or the Chief Officer] to comply with’ those obligations. One supports the Chief Officer to achieve his or her obligations by following his or her directions.