By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
As NSW faces some of the most catastrophic bushfires experienced to date and firefighters tirelessly battle to help hundreds of victims who have been displaced, it seems some people have decided to take matters into their own hands – perhaps not the best idea amongst what has been hailed as an unprecedented early fire season.
Last week, in what can only be described as bizarre behaviour, a 19-year-old man was caught allegedly dressed in a Fire and Rescue NSW uniform after he was spotted riding a motorbike through the Royal National Park while it was closed to the public.
At about 9:30pm on 12 November 2019, police were called to Farnell Avenue in Loftus in southern Sydney where a man was seen allegedly masquerading as a firefighter.
Officers pulled the 19-year-old man over and arrested him.
He was promptly taken to Sutherland Police Station where he was charged with impersonating an emergency services officer (https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/6490913/man-charged-with-impersonating-fire-and-rescue-nsw-crew-member/).
The young man was also charged after being found in possession of emergency service paraphernalia suspected of being stolen or illegally obtained.
He was granted strict conditional bail and to appear at Sutherland local Court (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/about-us/courts-we-attend/sutherland-court/) in early December.
Lismore Man also Discovered with Emergency Services Equipment after Search of his Property
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a 36-year-old man from Lismore was also charged after officers searched his home in Koonorigan and allegedly discovered emergency equipment with the NSW Rural Fire Service insignia labelled on them.
The man is facing dishonestly obtaining benefit by deception and having goods in custody suspected of being stolen charges in NSW (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/robbery-or-stealing/goods-in-custody/).
State Emergency Operations Express Disappointment over Arrests During Important Period
Speaking of the incidents, as well as five other people aged between 18 and 28 who were found to have breached last week’s total fire ban, State Emergency Operations Controller Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said it was disappointing that the actions of a few had the potential to significantly impact the wider community.
“The vast majority of people really banded together and supported each other during a time of catastrophic danger.
“It’s unacceptable that the actions of these few individuals endangered the lives and property of others, either intentionally or through ignorance,” Deputy Commissioner Worboys said (https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/men-charged-after-impersonating-firefighters/ar-BBWG0NL?li=AA4RE4&parent-title=powerful-quake-off-chile-slams-waves-into-coastal-towns-eight-killed&parent-ns=ar&parent-content-id=AAeoeOI&index=1).
Police have since spoken to a number of individuals in relation to fires and praised the fantastic work by community members who have come forward with information.
Nevertheless, in the midst of what has been some of NSW’s worst bushfires, NSW police are still turning to members of the community to come forward with any information relating to any suspicious behaviour during the fires.
Law on Impersonating an Emergency Services Organisation Officer in NSW
In NSW, the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1989/165/part4/sec63b) outlines offences concerning emergency services organisations.
Section 63B State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1989/165/part4/sec63b) prohibits a person from manufacturing or selling an emergency services organisation insignia.
It also prohibits a person from using or displaying such an insignia or impersonating an emergency services organisation officer if the person had the intention to deceive.
The above offences carry a maximum penalty of $5,500 fine.
Section 63B(2A) prescribes a maximum penalty of $11,000 fine for impersonating an emergency services organisation officer if that person intended to deceive and purported to exercise a function of such an officer.
The same section prescribes the same maximum penalty for a person who impersonates an emergency services organisation officer if that person intended to deceive for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence.
What are the defences to this charge? It is a defence to this charge if the accused person was authorised by the relevant emergency services organisation, if the conduct was for purposes of public entertainment or there was a reasonable excuse for doing this.
What does ‘emergency services organisation insignia’ mean under the law? This includes uniforms, emblems, logos, or insignia generally recognised as pertaining to an emergency services organisation (other than NSW Police Force) or used by an emergency services organisation officer.
What does ‘emergency services organisation officer’ mean under the law? This means and includes volunteer, member, employee or any person who exercises functions on behalf of an emergency services organisation.
Have a question to ask?
Call us on our 24/7 hotline to arrange a free first consultation with a criminal lawyer from Parramatta (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/) or CBD Sydney.