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Emergency radio upgrade will ‘save lives of first responders’

“We saw an extraordinary number of resources converging in local areas and when you get this … you get networks being very congested with everyone looking for airtime and to talk to one another,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.

Bushfires burnt through 5.4 million hectares in NSW.

Bushfires burnt through 5.4 million hectares in NSW.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“So yes, there were challenges with the communications system.”

The new public safety network will consolidate about 70 separate agency radio networks into one and is expected to be completed by December 2022.

“If this network was up and running at its fullest in the last fire season, of course things would have been different,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

He said the network will “see us enter the modern era of communication” and will include automatic vehicle location tools that will reduce the RFS’s dependence on mobile phone carriers and satellite links to track its trucks.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the radio network expansion will also provide the foundations for the rollout of a public safety mobile broadband.

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“[That will] enable us to deliver this growing dependency on high-volume data, lots of imagery, video footage, photographs … and specifications that we need to get to the frontline or that the frontline needs to share,” he said.

Areas where coverage is expected to improve include parts of the state’s south, such as Holbrook, Tarcutta, Gundagai and Albury, communities along the new England Highway, including Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Ben Lomong, Moree and Warialda, as well as Griffith, Wagga Wagga and the North Coast region.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the increased coverage will “ensure more people across the state are safer and our emergency services have the ability to mitigate dangers to communities”.

A total of 25 people died during the latest fire season, including three volunteer Australian firefighters and three US firefighters.

The fires burnt through about 5.4 million hectares across NSW.

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