CFA volunteer doubts bushfire royal commission will result in change

HORROR SUMMER: The Upper Murray bushfire devastated properties on both sides of the Murray River, but local Jingellic and Walwa firefighters were unable to communicate. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
HORROR SUMMER: The Upper Murray bushfire devastated properties on both sides of the Murray River, but local Jingellic and Walwa firefighters were unable to communicate. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Communications issues that prevented CFA and RFS crews speaking despite being just kilometres apart on the Upper Murray fire front should have been addressed years, if not decades, ago, one Walwa volunteer says.

CFA and RFS operate on different radio networks, despite the fact Walwa crews often respond to fires in NSW and Jingellic tankers respond in Victoria.

The issues experienced during this summer's bushfires are expected to be discussed in more depth at the bushfire royal commission this week, but they should come as no surprise, Walwa CFA Brigade secretary Robert Newnham says.

It's a problem that has faced firefighters for decades, Mr Newnham says, and one they've tried repeatedly to have addressed.

"The issue has been there for years, but it's obviously worse now we need to go into the other state to help out where required," he said.

"We both have radios in the truck but they don't talk to each other.

"We often talk about it, we make requests but nothing seems to happen. We're hoping the royal commission will address these issues but I'm not greatly confident anything will change."

Mr Newnham said crews sometime use UHFs to communicate, but as they require line of sight they aren't effective in many situations.

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He said it's hard to believe the royal commission will change anything when communities on each side of the Murray have been coming up against cross-border issues for decades with no solutions.

"It's been going on for so long," he said.

"There are a lot of things the states don't agree on, that aren't uniform like licences, car regos... it seems to be a different country on either side of the river."

Mr Newnham said he can't complain too much because he hadn't put a submission into the royal commission himself. He said he was too busy at the time dealing with recovery after about 85 per cent of his Walwa property was burnt.

"I'm not very confident a lot will come out of it," he said.

Mr Newnham said unfortunately, COVID-19 was an additional struggle for affected community and had pushed the summer's bushfire crisis to the back of people's minds.

On the ground recovery is far from over, he said, and cross-border issues continued to plague the bushfire affected communities, with grants and recovery measures different on each side of the Murray.

"Looking at the country now, it looks quite green and lush... in parts you'd hardly notice the fire was here, but it was quite dramatic at the time," he said. "There's still a lot of work to do."

This story Radio issues should have been addressed years ago, says firefighter first appeared on The Border Mail.