New South Wales Rural Fire Service

New South Wales Rural Fire Service
New South Wales Rural Fire Service
NSW Rural Fire Service.png
Motto: ...for Our Community
Established 1997
Staffing 752
Strength 70,000+
Stations 2065
Helicopters 1
Fireboats 22
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) is a volunteer-based firefighting agency and statutory body of the NSW Government. The NSW RFS is responsible for the general administration of rural fire management affairs including administration of the Rural Fire Fighting Fund, co-ordination with local government of the State's Rural Fire Brigades, design and provision of fire fighting equipment to rural fire brigades through local government, the training of volunteer Rural Fire Brigade members, community education in relation to fire affairs, emergency planning and generally taking measures for the prevention of loss and life and property from fires. The NSW RFS is responsible to the NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, currently Mike Gallacher.

The NSW Rural Fire Service's jurisdiction covers more than 90% of the geographical area of the state of New South Wales in Australia. The NSW RFS claims to be the world's largest volunteer fire service, with over 70,000 volunteer firefighters forming 2093 volunteer brigades across the state, although this figure includes inactive volunteer members. The service also employs 700+ paid staff who fulfill the senior operational management and administrative roles of the service (current January 2009)[1][2].



More than 100 years ago, the residents of the small town of Berrigan in south west New South Wales, banded together as firefighters to protect their community against the ever-present threat of bush fires. They were Australia's first official bush fire brigade.

Prior to 1997, bushfire fighting services in New South Wales were essentially a patchwork of more than 200 separate fire-fighting agencies working under a loose umbrella with no single chain of command. The core of the service, then as now, was the volunteer brigades that were organised along council district lines under the command of a locally appointed Fire Control Officer. Fire fighting efforts were funded by the Bush Fire Fighting Fund, established in 1949 and financed by insurance companies, local council and the State Government. A variety of State-run committees and councils oversaw bushfire operations with members drawn from various Government fire fighting agencies and council and volunteer representatives. These groups developed legislation and techniques but in the main responsibility for bushfire management was vested in individual local councils in dedicated bushfire areas as determined under the 1909 Fire Brigades Act. This Act proclaimed the areas serviced by the Board of Fire Commissioners (now the New South Wales Fire Brigades) and covered the urban areas of Sydney and Newcastle together with most regional and country towns of any significance.[3]

In January 1994, extreme weather conditions resulted in over 800 bushfires breaking out along the coast of NSW. More than 800,000 hectares of land and 205 homes were burned. 120 people were injured and 4 people were killed, including 3 volunteer firefighters from the Wingello Bush Fire Brigade. The financial cost of the disaster was estimated at $165 million. The lengthy Coronial Inquiry that followed recommended the State Government introduce a single entity responsible for the management of bush fires in NSW. The 1997 Rural Fires Act was proclaimed on 1 September, with Phil Koperberg announced as Commissioner. As Director-General of the Department of Bush Fire Services, Koperberg had been in command of the fire agencies battling the 1994 fires and was instrumental in developing the legislation that led to the Rural Fires Act.

Volunteer brigades, 1896 - 1936

RFS memorial in Berrigan commemorating the establishment of the first bush fire brigade in New South Wales.

Organised control of bushfires began with the establishment of the first volunteer bushfire brigades at Berrigan in 1896[4][5]. This brigade had been established in response to a series of large fires in northern Victoria and south western New South Wales in the 1890s. These culminated in the Red Tuesday fire of 1 February, 1898 in Gippsland that claimed 12 lives and destroyed 2000 buildings[6].

In 1919 the Local Government Act provided for the prevention and mitigation of bushfires by authorising local councils to establish, manage and maintain these brigades[7]. The establishment of the Bush Fires Act in 1930 granted local councils the authority to appoint bushfire officers with powers comparable to those held by a Chief Officer of the NSW Fire Brigades[8]. These Fire Control Officers were responsible for bushfire management within their appointed local council districts.

Bush Fire Advisory Committee, 1937 - 1948

In September 1937 a conference of fire-fighting authorities was convened to discuss the prevention of bushfires during the summer months. The Bush Fire Advisory Committee was established to prevent and mitigate bush fires[9]. This committee had no statutory powers but publicised the need for the public to observe fire safety precautions and highlighted the role of Bush Fire Brigades. It was also largely responsible for preparing legislation that led to the Bush Fires Act of 1949[10].

Bush Fire Committee, 1949 - 1970

The Bush Fires Act, 1949 came into effect on 9 December 1949[11]. This legislation consolidated and modernised the law relating to the prevention, control and suppression of bush fires, and gave councils and other authorities wider powers to protect the areas under their control. The system of bushfire brigades manned by volunteers and directed by their officers appointed by their local Councils continued but shire and district councils or Ministers could now appoint group captains to direct brigades formed by two adjoining councils[12].

The Act also gave the Governor of NSW the authority to proclaim bush fire districts where none had previously been proclaimed. Essential to the legislation was the establishment of the Bush Fire Fighting Fund. This Fund was financed by insurance companies contributing half the funds with the remainder supplied equally by State and local government. The Act also enabled for the co-ordination of the activities of the Board of Fire Commissioners, the Forestry Commission (now State Forests) and the Bush Fire Brigades. The Minister for Local Government was empowered to appoint a person to take charge of all bush fire operations during a state of emergency[12].

The Bush Fire Committee replaced the Bush Fire Advisory Committee and had 20 members representing NSW Government departments, local government, the insurance industry, the farming community, the Board of Fire Commissioners, and the Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau. A Standing Committee composed of a chairman and five others met at least once a month[12]. Based in Sydney, the Bush Fire Committee advised the Chief Secretary and Minister for Local Government on all matters relating to bush fires, and generally coordinated the work of volunteer fire fighting groups and was responsible for community education relating to bushfires[12].

Bush Fire Council/Bush Fire Service, 1970–1997

In 1970 the Bush Fire Committee was replaced by the Bush Fire Council[13], with members drawn from the various fire fighting authorities from around the state. A special Co-ordinating Committee was established to oversee the co-ordination of fire-fighting and related resources prior to and during the bush fire season, and particularly during bush fire emergencies. A Chief Co-ordinator of Bush Fire Fighting was also appointed[14].

In January 1975, the Bush Fires Branch of the NSW Chief Secretary's department integrated with the State Emergency Service and renamed the Bush Fire Service[15].

The Department of Bush Fire Services was established in 1990. Phil Koperberg was appointed Director-General of the Department on 11 May[16]. The Department's main role was in co-ordinating the fire fighting activities of other government agencies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, State Forests of New South Wales, Sydney Water and the New South Wales Fire Brigades in emergency circumstances[17]. It was also responsible for the management and control of the NSW Bush Fire Fighting Fund and the co-ordination of the State's 2,500 Bush Fire Brigades[18], however the brigades still remained under the direct control of local council.

NSW Rural Fire Service, 1997–present

The Rural Fire Service Headquarters is situated on Carter Street, Lidcombe.

The NSW Rural Fire Service was established by the Rural Fires Act 1997 which was assented to on 10 July 1997 and came into force on 1 September 1997[19]. The Rural Fires Act repealed the Bush Fires Act, 1949 thereby dissolving the Bush Fire Council and its Committees. Members of these bodies ceased to hold office but were entitled to hold office on a replacing body.

The Rural Fire Service Advisory Council of New South Wales was established. The Council was to consist of nine representatives with a direct or indirect association with bush fire prevention and control; the Commissioner in charge of bush fire fighting services was ex-officio to be the Chairperson of the Council. The task of the Council was to advise and report to the Minister and Commissioner on any matter relating to the administration of rural fire services, and to advise the Commissioner on public education programs relating to rural fire matters, training of rural fire fighters, and on the issue of Service Standards.

A statutory body – the Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee - also was established. This was to consist of 12 members including the Commissioner who was to act as Chairperson. The Committee was to be responsible for the administration of rural fires management as well as advising the Commissioner on bush fire prevention.

The Committee was to constitute a Bush Fire Management Committee for "the whole of the area of any local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted". Each Management Committee was to prepare and present to the Council a plan of operations and bush fire risk management plan for its area within three months of establishment. The former was to be reviewed every two years; the latter every five years.

Section 102 of the new act established the New South Wales Rural Fire Fighting Fund to replace the New South Wales Bush Fire Fighting Fund. Quarterly contributions from insurance companies, local councils and the Treasury were to continue in the same proportions as under previous legislation - 14 % from the State Treasury, 73.7% from the insurance industry and 12.3% from local Councils[20]


NSW RFS Headquarters was located at Rosehill in Sydney until October 2004. It is currently located in Carter Street, Lidcombe. Separate directorates within NSW RFS Headquarters are responsible for Infrastructure Services, Membership Services, Operational Services, Regional Services, Strategic Services, and Executive Services.

Regional offices mirror these responsibilities at more centralised locations across the State. The original eight regions were consolidated into four by 2000. These Regions are as follows:

Due to their size, Region South and Region West have a second office at Albury and Cobar respectively.

Formerly run by council-appointed officers, district Fire Control Centres became State controlled under the Rural Fires Act. District offices manage the day-to-day affairs of local brigades and maintain responsibility for local fire prevention and strategies. With the amalgation of neighbouring districts over recent years, the number of district offices is 103.

Volunteer brigades are responsible for hands-on bush firefighting duties. Since the establishment of the Rural Fire Service, the role of brigades has gradually expanded to include disaster recovery, fire protection at motor vehicle accidents, search and rescue operations and increased levels of structural firefighting. There are over 1575 firefighting brigades and more than 50 catering and communications brigades providing support.

Senior officers


The most senior member of the organisation is the Commissioner. The first NSW RFS Commissioner was Phil Koperberg, who had previously been the Director-General of the NSW Department of Bushfire Services after its creation in 1990. In 2007 he stepped down from the role after announcing his candidature for the NSW State election in March in which he was elected as a Member of Parliament. In September 2007 Shane Fitzsimmons was officially appointed NSW RFS Commissioner.

Commissioners of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Deputy Commissioners of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service

  • Anthony Gates (1997- 1998)
  • Rob Rogers (2011 - )

Assistant Commissioner

Within the NSW RFS, the head of one of the operationally aligned Directorates within Headquarters is given the corporatised designation Director. Two of the Directors are uniformed personnel with the rank of Assistant Commissioner, and the Director of Operational Services holds the rank of Deputy Commissioner. Non-operational Directors are unranked.

Assistant Commissioners of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service

  • Ross Smith (1997–2002)
  • Anthony Howe AFSM (1999–2006)
  • Mark Crosweller (1997–2009)
  • Shane Fitzsimmons (1999–2007)
  • Keith Harrap (2004–Present)
  • Robin Rogers (2002 - 2011)
  • Dominic Lane (2008–Present)



Operational Rank Membership Type Insignia
Commissioner NSW Government Senior Executive Service Officer NSWRFS Insignia Commissioner.jpg
Assistant Commissioner NSW Government Senior Executive Service Officer NSWRFS Insignia AssistCommissioner.jpg
Chief Superintendent NSW Government Public Service Officer NSWRFS Insignia ChiefSuper.jpg
Superintendent NSW Government Public Service Officer NSWRFS Insignia Super.jpg
Inspector NSW Government Public Service Officer NSWRFS Insignia Inspector.jpg
Group Captain Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia GroupCapt.jpg
Deputy Group Captain Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia DeptGroupCapt.jpg
Captain Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia Captain.jpg
Senior Deputy Captain Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia SeniorDeptCapt.jpg
Deputy Captain Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia DeptCapt.jpg
Fire Fighter Volunteer NSWRFS Insignia Member.jpg


Firefighting vehicles

RFS Category 1 tanker
RFS Category 10 Urban Pumper

Firefighting appliances utilised within the RFS are all painted white over orange/red with undercarriages painted black, equipped with red/blue flashing emergency lights and sirens. These Firefighting appliances are modified commercial trucks with plastic . Many tankers outside the Sydney area are over 10 years old and some are 20 years old with limited safety equipment.

Appliances are categorised as follows:

  • Category 1 Heavy Tanker 4WD (3,001–4,000 Litres)
  • Category 2 Medium Tanker 4WD (1,601–3,000 Litres)
  • Category 3 Heavy Tanker (Cat 1 without 4WD)
  • Category 4 Medium Tanker (Cat 2 without 4WD)
  • Category 5 Super Tanker 4WD (4,001+ Litres)
  • Category 6 Super Tanker (Cat 5 without 4WD)
  • Category 7 Light Tanker 4WD (801–1,600 Litres)
  • Category 8 Light Tanker (Category 7 without 4WD)
  • Category 9 Ultra Light (Striker/Mop-up) 4WD Appliance (350–800 Litres)
  • Category 10 Urban Pumper
  • Category 11 Urban Pumper 4WD
  • Category 12 Personnel Transport Vehicle
  • Category 13 Bulk Water Carriers
  • Category 14 Tanker-Trailers
  • Category 15 Fire Boat

The most common of these tankers (a tanker is a type of fire appliance) is the Dual Cab Category 1 Tanker (mainly used in a combination of urban and rural roles), also in common use are Category 7 tankers in both single and dual cab and Category 9 appliances. Category 2 tankers are less common, and Category 11 pumpers can be found in many brigades with dedicated urban responsibilities. Category 13 vehicles are usually rented in the event of a major fire campaign, however there are some Districts that maintain Category 13 vehicles. Category 14 vehicles are often found on farms. The remaining categories are seldom, if ever, used. Technical information on some of these tankers is available in the Tanker Information section of the service's website.

There are a number of water-based firefighting appliances (Category 15) within the NSW RFS; these appliances are generally operated by brigades located in areas where the only available access is via water (e.g. communities along the Hawkesbury River of NSW).

Support vehicles

Typical RFS Toyota Landcruiser Personnel carrier (PC)

The NSW RFS utilises various support vehicles. These are categorised as follows:

  • Personnel Carriers. Generally a 4WD in the style of Toyota Landcruisers or Land Rover Defenders. In recent times this has been expanded to Toyota Hiluxs and Nissan Navaras.
  • Forward Control Vehicles. These mobile communications centres can range in size from small 4WD-type vehicles to bus-type vehicles.
  • Bulk Water Tankers to resupply appliances engaged in fire fighting activities.
  • Catering Units. Catering units vary in size from small trailers, to large, fully equipped mobile kitchen trucks. Catering Units are usually operated by specialist Catering Brigades
  • Lighting Units. Towed behind a personnel carrier, or other service vehicle. Used to light areas for night time operations such as Motor Vehicle Accidents.


Beechcraft B200T Super King Air with belly camera hatch aft of the wing

The NSW Rural Fire Service also operates an Aviation Unit. The RFS contracts a number of aircraft, including a Beechcraft B200T Super King Air, tactical callsign "Firescan" (registration VH-LAB) used in mapping, monitoring and detecting fires. The Aviation Unit also contracts aircraft on a full time and on call basis in the role of supporting ground-based firefighting efforts, scouting fires, and spotting new fires. RFS Aviation has also been employed to assist during flood emergencies, such as the June 2005 floods in Northern NSW.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Each NSW Rural Fire Service member is issued and equipped with the latest 'standards exceeding' safety equipment in order to undertake the varied and dangerous roles they are trained for, such PPE includes:

Minimum issue

For brigades with bushfire and village fire fighting roles, defensive only and support units on the fireground

  • Bushfire Boots - hard toe boots, heat & chemical resistant
  • Bushfire Gloves - for radiant heat and sharp objects
  • Bushfire Helmet - lightweight head protection for radiant heat and falling trees/branches
  • Bushfire Two Piece Uniform - consists of gold/yellow jacket and pants with 3M triple reflective striping and RFS reflective back patch and sleeve insignia
  • Flash Hoods - for use in case of fire overrun or with CABA if utilised
  • Bushfire Goggles - protect eyes from smoke, embers and twigs

Extended issue

For brigades with strong village roles, who are equipped with CABA (compressed air breathing apparatus) and perform offensive firefighting - list below is issued in addition to the above

  • Structural Boots - steel capped boots
  • Structural Jacket and Over trousers - lime green in colour, worn by those entering a burning building for additional radiant heat protection
  • Structural Helmets - extra strength helmet, with corresponding extra weight
  • Structural Gloves - thicker, insulated gloves suitable for high temperature environments

Optional issue

  • Wet Weather gear - two piece bright yellow wet weather gear. Some regions will issue to each firefighter, other regions will only issue per seat per appliance.
  • Cold Climate Jacket (AKA Turnout Coat) - used in cold climates, or overnight firefighting.

Brigades of the NSW RFS

See Brigades of the NSW RFS

See also


  1. ^ "Wildland Fire & the WUI: International WildFire Management Conference Australia 2009". The International Association of Fire Chiefs. 1 March 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2009. 
  2. ^ Our Structure - NSW Rural Fire Service
  3. ^ for an extensive list of regional and country locations covered by the early NSWFB, see Board of Fire Commissioners 1914 Annual Report, Appendix VIII p.13.
  4. ^ The Australian Encyclopaedia, The Grolier Society of Australia, 4th edition, Sydney, 1983 vol. 2 p. 137
  5. ^ About Us - NSW Rural Fire Service
  6. ^ Department of Sustainability and Environment - Major Bushfires in Victoria
  7. ^ NSW Local Government Act. (No. 41, 1919) Section 494
  8. ^ NSW Bush Fires Act (No. 14, 1930) Section 4
  9. ^ Board of Fire Commissioners of New South Wales Report for y/e 31 March 1937 p. 3 in NSW PP 1938-39-40 vol. 17 pp. 1063-1101
  10. ^ Concise Guide 2nd edition 1992 A-Cl "Bush Fire Council" p. 68
  11. ^ NSWGG 1949 vol. 2 p. 3660
  12. ^ a b c d Agency Detail
  13. ^ NSWGG 1970 vol. 2 p. 2110
  14. ^ Bush Fires Act (No.25, 1970) s. 398
  15. ^ p. 7 Report of the Bush Fire Council of NSW 1975 in NSWPP 1976-77-78 vol. 1 pp. 953-987
  16. ^ NSWGG 1990 vol. 2 part 1 p. 3775
  17. ^ Department of Bush Fire Services Annual Report for y/e 30 June,1996 p.8
  18. ^ NSW Government Directory June 1996 18th edition p. 162
  19. ^ NSWGG 1997 No. 95 29 August 1997 p. 6644)
  20. ^ Rural Fires Act (No. 65, 1997) Sections 100, 105, 109 & 111

Other references

  • NSW Rural Fire Service Corporate Plan 2006-2008[1]

External links

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