Command and Control Hierarchy
Monday, 11 Oct 2021
This will ensure that local people with local knowledge remain in control of local fires.
The position of the RFBAQ is that a 1st Officer of a Brigade in their own area would only be subordinate to the RFSQ Inspector and that all ATSO’s and BTSO’s would come under the direction of the 1st Officer.
Here is the hierarchy that the RFBAQ have been attempting to achieve through negotiation with QFES over the last 12 months.
This structure is clearly defined in the section below from the Fire Service Act 1990 - https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/inforce/current/act-1990-010
The QFES then amended the command and control document to show that a 1st Officer, Fire Warden, BTSO and ATSO are all the same in the hierarchy of command and control. So not much of a hierarchy.
The RFBAQ has repeatedly met with the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Wassing, Assistant Commissioner Bolger and Chief Supt Johnstone relating to this and in each meeting they were supportive right up to having to affect the change.
Now we have a document that has no hierarchy. To make this work QFES has stated that the local RFSQ Inspector will choose the incident controller for each individual incident.
This below section is from the QFES Command Directive and it is obviously unworkable. This section also has a Fire Warden as being able to exercise the same powers at an incident as a 1st Officer even though the Fire Warden is a non operational role.
The RFBAQ General Meeting in May 2021 that was held in conjunction with the Northern Volunteer Summit unanimously passed a resolution that a 1st Officer of a Rural Fire Brigade will report to a RFSQ Inspector and that a BTSO or ATSO are there to support the Rural Fire Brigade Officer as is outlined in the Fire Service Act.
In pursuit of a resolution ahead of fire season the RFBAQ has chased up the QFES to get a definitive answer and the below is a segment of a larger email from Deputy Commissioner Wassing dated 7th October (last Thursday).
RFBAQ Proposed Hierarchy of Command Model:
- The hierarchy of command has two aspects; one being the daily roles of individuals (e.g. First Officer, Area Training Support Officer etc) and the other being operational response roles. I understand your intent is to clarify the latter. The first arriving officer/firefighter is to assume control of the incident and therefore becomes the Incident Controller. If this is the First Officer or a member of his/her RFB, then the same applies. Subsequent arriving personnel including anyone of a more senior rank, such as a BTSO or ATSO, should report to the Incident Controller and offer assistance and not automatically assume / take control. Transferring the Incident Controller role to another person should be informed by the current incumbent and their ability and comfort is retaining the role in the current and foreseeable incident.
The above email now has a BTSO and ATSO being of a more senior rank than a 1st Officer which is different to the QFES Command Directive.
This response was tabled at the RFBAQ General Meeting that was held in Rockhampton last weekend and the position of the State Executive was to now agitate for change more widely as the QFES is incapable of affecting change and as it is fire season we need it fixed now as we don’t have the time to wait for the QFES to be dissolved in 2022.
Below is again a unanimous resolution to give the power back to the local people.
The RFBAQ position on this has been very clear for many years and was also heavily focused on in the submission to the 2018 Bushfire Review (link to submission) with an excerpt below regarding placed based decision making below.
Place Based Decision Making by Local Community
The management of the Mackay fires is an interesting demonstration of place based, community minded decision making.
All the fires were managed directly by brigade volunteers at local Incident Controls, supported by the QFES co-ordination centre in Mackay.
The Cathu/Bloomsbury fire burnt 45,000ha over 10 days and was managed by Bloomsbury Rural Fire Brigade and Andromache Rural Fire Brigade 1st Officers.
The Finch Hatton fire was managed by Brigade Officers from Mt Blackwood Rural Fire Brigade.
The Eungella fire was managed by the RFBAQ Rep / 1st Officer of Seaforth District Rural Fire Brigade supported by Mt Blackwood Rural Fire Brigade 1st Officer. These fires combined were 121,000ha.
The Blue Mountains fire at 26,000ha was managed by a Primary Producer Brigade with some appliances and the Carmila fire, 65,000ha over 24 days was managed by the local 1st Officer.
Local knowledge with place based decision making has been proven the most effective way to manage incidents. The competent, non-resource hungry way that these very large and complex fires were fought and won demonstrates how resilient communities can manage extraordinary incidents locally.
One learning from the Mackay fires was the amount of energy expended in bringing in and facilitating interstate resources when there was a surplus of local brigade volunteers whose need was for a few extra fire trucks for the duration of the fires.
The closer to local that you can run an incident the smoother it will run as people use local knowledge and have an understanding of how fire has previously moved through the district.
Place based decision making includes the responsibility to their community for what happens once the fire has passed.
The Mackay fires have gone largely unnoticed as they were well managed fires run by local volunteers making decisions based on their local knowledge.
The RFBAQ would see the FESA Act 1990 reflect the command and control relationship between the three distinct services and provide a platform that allows for place based real-time decision making, the empowerment of local knowledge and a recognition of service specific professionalism in command and control.
This would discontinue the current ambiguities within the FESA Act 1990, such as how section
83 Powers of first officer states -
(1) Where, pursuant to notification given under section 82(2), a
rural fire brigade is in charge of operations for controlling and
extinguishing a fire, the first officer of the brigade has, for that
(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.
This section would allow for the local brigade to command and control a local fire using local knowledge and be supported by the QFES and Fire and Rescue fire officers; yet subordinate internal departmental directives are not consistent with the legislation and see control at many bushfires being taken away from those with the local knowledge of fire behaviour and local fire history.
The RFBAQ submission to the QFES Legislative Review that is currently underway is heavily based on empowering locals to make decisions that affect their communities. The legislative review will have a large community consultation component to ensure that any proposals for clarification or amendments to command and control are in the best interest of the communities. Any proposed legislative change must travel through Parliament which is also a forum for potential amendment.
Place based decision making is also an understanding that the majority of fires are started by people, on balance by accident, but still by people.
When the population increases there is a commensurate increase in the number of bushfires. For a fire service to see that an increasing population in areas will see a commensurate reduction in volunteer Rural Fire Brigades is illogical, expensive and diminishes the capacity of the state to defend itself.
RECOMMENDATION: Clear workable legislation the allows for place based decision making by the local primary service supplier. (in example - Rural Fire Brigade at a bushfire, Fire & Rescue Station at a building fire, State Emergency Service Group at a flood boat activation)
RECOMMENDATION: Retention of Incident Control at the incident.
RECOMMENDATION: Resourcing requests driven from Incident Control.