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RFS volunteer firebug ‘distinctive case’

A young Rural Fire Service volunteer who lit 10 fires has been spared jail time by a judge who said severe bullying as a child led to his need for belonging to a group.

Brendan Piccini 21, was sentenced in the NSW District Court for 10 charges of intentionally causing fire and being reckless as to its spread in the Tweed Valley between October and November 2020.

Judge Dina Yehia on Wednesday sentenced Piccini to an intensive corrections order for two years, nine months and 24 days, saying his subjective case was exceptional.

The court was told Piccini suffers from a low average intellectual ability, ADHD and learning difficulties, resulting in incessant bullying by students at school.

On one severe occasion he was pushed down a flight of stairs breaking a leg and damaging ligaments, the court was told.

“Bullying and social ostracisation resulted in no sense of belonging to any social groups,” Judge Yehia said.

The Murwillumbah man started the fires using paper and a cigarette lighter, often on the side of the road near Tweed Valley Way and mostly after 6pm after leaving work, according to the facts of the case.

Piccini would then drive home and wait for a call to attend the scene with his brigade.

Some were described as “small shrub or bush fires” and opportunistic and unsophisticated in nature.

One deemed more serious was lit in dry grass and leaves in Mooball National Park but this only resulted in smoke.

“If he wanted to cause damage he would have lit fires at different times of day to help them spread,” the court was told.

The then-18-year-old was arrested on November 4, 2020, and spent two months in custody after giving full and frank admissions to police.

He said that he felt “part of a group” while volunteering with the RFS and felt excited to go on calls with the team.

“In my head I’m thinking ‘why don’t I light some fires, I could get out and be part of the team’?”

He denied feeling excited or aroused by fire, but it was going out with others and achieving a common goal that motivated him to light the fires, Judge Yehia said.

Piccini had personally apologised to members of the fire brigade and sought to give back to the community by renovating old furniture for palliative care op-shops, the judge said.

The judge also found he had shown genuine remorse, and had strong support with local community members rallying behind him.

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