A volunteer firefighter is suing the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), after she was groped by one member of her brigade in the state’s Central Tablelands and allegedly crash tackled by another.
- A deputy captain groped the woman’s bottom and grabbed her hips
- She injured her knee when a captain allegedly crash-tackled her during a training exercise
- The deputy captain was removed from the RFS after being convicted by a court in 2019
It comes after RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers was forced to respond on Tuesday to online allegations of sexual assault, bullying, harassment and physical violence within the service and confirmation by NSW Police that it was investigating two complaints.
The ABC has chosen not to identify the woman suing the RFS as she fears retribution in the small, rural town.
She is seeking aggravated and punitive damages over the assaults, which she alleges occurred between between October 2015 and October 2017, when she was a member of the local brigade.
In a statement of claim filed to the NSW District Court, the woman claims the brigade’s then-deputy captain made comments about her body parts, asked questions about her sex life and smacked and grabbed her backside.
He also touched her up the back of her leg and pinched the inside of her thighs.
In another incident the married woman claims he grabbed her hips from behind and pulled them in front of him, while laughing.
“Such grabbing of the plaintiff’s hips … was done without [her] consent,” the statement of claim alleges.
His actions were “a deliberate, intentional and reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s interests”.
In a letter to then-RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, the woman said by 2017 the deputy captain had began to display identical behaviour towards another female member who reported it up the chain of command.
As part of that investigation, the woman told a senior RFS officer of her experiences with the man.
He was then stood down and the brigade captain was questioned over his deputy’s conduct.
The woman claims the brigade captain crash-tackled her to the ground during a training exercise the following day, injuring her right knee and back.
The woman says she had been playing a disgruntled farmer during the training exercise and as part of that role had been throwing water balloons near a fire truck.
She alleges the captain “taunted” her, saying: “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do? I suggest you run.”
She turned and ran before the brigade captain “charged” at her, the statement of claim alleges.
“When the plaintiff was crash-tackled by [the captain] he slammed into the left-hand side of the plaintiff’s body, grabbing the plaintiff above her legs, with his hands around the plaintiff’s waist,” it alleges.
He then allegedly sat on her back, holding her arms behind her.
She required a knee operation as the result of the incident.
The woman’s lawsuit claims that at all times both men were agents of the RFS and, alternatively that the RFS failed in its duty of care to her.
She is seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of earnings and future earning capacity due to her inability to be on her feet for too long.
While her legal team would not reveal how much money she is seeking, claims in the District Court can reach up to $750,000.
The incidents involving the deputy captain were reported to NSW Police and in February 2019 the man was convicted of two counts of indecent assault and two counts of stalk/intimidate, intend physical harm against her.
He was sentenced to community corrections orders for three of the four offences.
A spokesman for the RFS would not comment on the civil matter but said the deputy captain was stood down immediately after being charged and removed from the RFS after being found guilty by the court.
The RFS is yet to submit its defence.
The woman has since joined another RFS brigade.