THE fight against bushfire arson has been stepped up this summer with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) boosting its ranks of fire investigators as the State Government introduced new laws, beefing up RFS officers’ powers.
Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said 16 RFS members were completing their training to join the service’s 131 existing authorised investigators.
“RFS fire investigators have an essential role in helping protect life and property from bush fire,” he said.
“These new trainees are joining the Service’s investigatory ranks as the State Government gives firefighters the tools they need to reduce the risk of fires, punish bad behaviour and investigate fires.
“Under new laws which were passed in parliament designated RFS officers will have the ability to remove people and objects from fire scenes to ensure their safety and reduce the chance for arsonists to destroy evidence.”
Mr Whan said RFS officers will be able to enter private property, except residences, to investigate and secure evidence for up to 24 hours following a bush fire.
“After 24 hours they will be able to seek search warrants in the case of unexplained fires,” he said.
“These laws are designed to give RFS officers, who are often first on the scene, the best chance of locating the source of a fire in that critical period immediately after a bush fire.”
Mr Whan said the new investigators will boost the service’s capacity to investigate the cause of fires, particularly to determine which had been deliberately started through human intervention.
“The RFS works closely with the NSW Police Force to investigate suspected arson,” he said.
“Precise and thorough investigations of the cause and origin of fires are vital if we are to pursue and prosecute those irresponsible and dangerous individuals who put communities at risk by starting bush fires.
“After completing a week-long training course in Wollongong, the 16 trainees will be well on their way to joining their colleagues in this essential work.”
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the training equipped members with the skills to determine a fire’s point of origin, track its course, gather evidence, establish if human intervention had been involved and present evidence in court.
“Our trainees take part in both theoretical and practical sessions focusing on subjects such as the types of ignition, burn patterns and spread in the field,” he said.
“At the end of the course, trainees undergo an assessment before going on to be mentored in the field by authorised investigators.”
Mr Whan said as well as assisting in arson investigations, investigators helped authorities develop essential information on trends of fire causes, which could then be fed back into community safety and awareness.
“Fire investigation is another of the many ways we are working towards making communities safer from the threats of fires,” he said.