Fire crews report radio problems during heatwave

A CONGESTED radio communication system meant Ballarat fire crews were unable to make contact with operators during the heatwave.

This claim comes from the United Firefighters Union who said firefighters were twice unable to make contact through the VicFire system and on the second time crews were force to use a mobile phone to make contact. 

Both incidents occurred on January 15. 

On the first occasion, firefighters were called to Wendouree where a child was locked in the car during the sweltering weather. 

UFA national secretary Peter Marshall said this showed the government had not learnt from the communication problems which existed during the Black Saturday bushfires. 

“It was an extreme weather event, but that was identified in the Royal Commission as a problem, communications overload, and we had an incident,” he said. 

“Even though those recommendations came out in 2009, we had a number of occasions where the communication system failed the firefighters and indeed failed the community. 

“That is extremely dangerous, in other words the firefighters had no idea if the ambulance was coming.” 

The second incident involved a leaking gas cylinder at Invermay Park. 

Firefighters were forced to use a mobile phone to get in contact with the fire station to send a specialist crew to deal with the incident after failing to get through on their radio. 

Mr Marshall said firefighters had complained on numerous occasions about the patching through of both Bendigo and Ballarat fire services through to one VicFire operator.

He said the union had asked Ballarat MPs Sharon Knight and Geoff Howard to raise the issue with Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells. 

Ms Knight said she would be writing to Mr Wells to raise the failures of the VicFire system with him.

matthew.dixon@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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