Today’s correspondent is from
… a large NSW rural fire station with lots of space about. I found a vehicle parked in front of each of the 4 bays and the drivers just setting off on bicycles. I stopped them and politely suggested that they might like to move their vehicles. I was told “I can park where I want” by one person and “You have no right to make me move.” I calmly advised him (Perhaps incorrectly) “no but if we get called I have the right to push them all clear with the bullbar and it becomes your issue as it will be deemed damage caused by the incident.. . Your call.” Unlocked the door and walked into the station. They moved their cars…. where do we stand?
Self help is never a good look, so let’s start with the law. First ‘A driver must not stop on or across a driveway…’ Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 198. The maximum penalty is a fine of 20 penalty units ($2200). There are also offences if the area in front of the fire station is marked as ‘no stopping’ (r 167) or ‘no parking’ (r 168). The first step, and best before the driver’s move off, is to call the police rather than rely on the threat of force.
If a fire alarm is received, no-one is going to write a rule that says ‘it’s ok to push parked cars out of the way’ so more general rules have to be found. The Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 22 says that an officer of the RFS
… may, for the purpose of controlling or suppressing a fire or protecting persons, property or the environment from an existing or imminent danger arising out of a fire, incident or other emergency: … (b) take any other action that is reasonably necessary or incidental to the effective exercise of such a function.
Specifically, s 22A says:
An officer of a rural fire brigade or group of rural fire brigades may cause to be removed any person, vehicle, vessel or thing the presence of whom or which at or near a fire, incident or other emergency might, in the officer’s opinion, interfere with the work of any rural fire brigade or the exercise of any of the officer’s functions.
A question might arise as to whether the vehicles near the fire station are ‘at or near’ the emergency.
I think the outcome would depend on motivation. If there was an attempt to manoeuvre around the obstruction, and if damage was minimised and if the driver’s had been warned, that would all seem reasonable. If there was evidence that more damage was done than was necessary, just out of spite, then it’s a different matter. If the decision to gently push the vehicles out of the way is the only way to get out of the station then there is no reason to think that the protection from liability in s 128 would not apply. Again it may be different if there is an alternative (perhaps it’s a drive throught station and you could back out). If you do damage to the cars because you think it’s fun or in accord with your sense of justice, that is probably not ‘done in good faith for the purpose of executing any provision’ of the RFS Act; but if it is the only way to respond to a fire call then short of taking the station ‘off line’ it may be an appropriate response.