The Rural Fire Service is investigating claims that a volunteer firefighter who told the prime minister to “get fucked from Nelligen” in a viral news clip was “sacked’”by his local brigade.
Paul Parker told Channel Ten’s The Project on Sunday that he was chastised by the RFS for directing the expletive toward Scott Morrison and that he had been booted from the organisation, contrary to reports from the time that he had been stood down due to exhaustion.
"You're finished because of your allegations and foul language against the prime minister of the country while representing the RFS." Firefighter Paul Parker from Nelligen sacked from RFS. #TheProjectTV #auspol #AustralianFires pic.twitter.com/cBevXZRjzi— David Marler (@Qldaah) February 16, 2020
“Didn’t know you could get sacked from a volunteer organisation,” he said.
But the RFS has rejected Parker’s account, saying on Twitter on Monday: “We can confirm Paul remains a member of the NSW RFS and has not been dismissed.”
The NSW RFS is aware of reports concerning the status of volunteer member Paul Parker from the Nelligen area.— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) February 16, 2020
We can confirm Paul remains a member of the NSW RFS and has not been dismissed. #NSWRFS
RFS commissioner Shane Fitzimmons said the RFS was trying to contact Parker and other brigade members from the south coast of NSW to determine what has happened, and what Parker was told by local members.
The formal dismissal of an RFS volunteer requires a hearing before a local disciplinary panel and, on a case that has drawn media attention, the decision of the local panel must be approved by a state panel.
The RFS said it did not know if Parker had been on-shift since the incident and that, if he had not been called up, there could be other reasons at play.
It was picked up by international media and featured on The Today Show.
It shows Parker pulling alongside a Seven News camera operator in a fire truck, sticking his head out the window and saying: “Are you from the media? Tell the prime minister to go and get fucked from Nelligen. We really enjoy doing this shit, dickhead.”
Later Parker is shown collapsed on the ground saying: “I’ve lost seven houses already in Nelligen. I’m not going to lose any more, dickhead.”
The comments, which were shown alongside other uniformed RFS volunteers criticising Morrison and calling for him to stand down, were aired at the height of public anger at Morrison.
Morrison had said in early December that volunteer firefighters did not need compensation because they “want to be there” and then took a family holiday to Hawaii as NSW faced its most dangerous fire weather of the season to that date.
Anger was also evident when he appeared to walk away from locals in the devastated south coast town of Cobargo after a young woman refused to shake his hand unless he promised more resources to the RFS.
Morrison told reporters in Melbourne on Monday that he understood Parker was “incredibly exhausted” when he made the comments and that “of course” he should not be fired from the RFS.
“But the RFS have confirmed he wasn’t, and I’m pleased about that,” he said.
Morrison also said his own comments about volunteer firefighters had been “misrepresented”.
Morrison said he “never said that firefighters enjoyed doing this”.
“What I said, and this was misreported at the time, what I said was firefighters would be out there defending their communities, they want to be out there defending their communities when their community were at risk,” he said.
“There was a lot of things that were misrepresented over the summer. There was a bit of a pile-on. But I’ve got thick skin and work to do.”
The comment Morrison said was misrepresented was: “And the fact is these crews, yes, they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending those communities.”
Parker received widespread public praise for speaking up, and his local pub, the Steampacket Hotel, has reportedly received more than $500 towards a running bar tab so he never has to buy his own beer.
Labor MP Jason Clare mentioned the bar tab in parliament, saying it was “the ultimate pub test” against Morrison’s handling of the bushfire crisis.
But Parker said that within the ranks of the RFS his comments were less appreciated.
“The message I got was: ‘Bout time you brought the truck back because we were just about to send the police to go look for you,’ ” Parker told The Project.
“And then there were further comments with gestures and arm movements saying that I’m finished, it’s all over.
“Another captain from another brigade within Batemans Bay came out and I asked him a question, I said: ‘What’s going on?’ And he said: ‘You’re finished because of your allegations and foul language against the prime minister of the country while representing the RFS.’ ”
The interview sparked another outpouring of support for Parker on social media, with the hashtag #IstandwithPaulParker trending in Australia on Monday.