A TOW­ER­ING INFERNO

Albany Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Saskia Adysti

Fire brigade calls for ur­gent ac­tion to fix mo­bile black spot in Napier fol­low­ing May’s dev­as­tat­ing fire dur­ing which many res­i­dents and fire­fight­ers had no phone sig­nal.

Fire­fight­ers say a mo­bile blackspot in Napier must be fixed af­ter res­i­dents and vol­un­teers were left with­out phone cov­er­age dur­ing the dev­as­tat­ing May bush­fire.

A tower is planned un­der the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Mo­bile Black Spot Pro­gram, but, as re­vealed by the Albany Ad­ver­tiser ear­lier this year, the Napier tower pro­posal has been in limbo for more than a year be­cause of un­re­solved is­sues be­tween Tel­stra and landown­ers.

Napier Bush­fire Brigade pres­i­dent Brett Smoker said the poor mo­bile phone re­cep­tion ham­pered com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing the May fire, which de­stroyed one houses in the ru­ral area.

“The sit­u­a­tion was even worse then, be­cause there was less cov­er­age in that area,” he said. “When every­one was fight­ing the fire, we had very lit­tle ra­dio cov­er­age and ab­so­lutely no mo­bile cov­er­age.”

Mr Smoker said the area was also prone to poor ra­dio cov­er­age, which also ham­pered fire­fight­ers.

“Out in this area and the Red­mond area, the ra­dio re­cep­tion is pretty iffy,” he said.

“Be­cause we’re out on the fringes, our sig­nal is not that great.

Tel­stra Area gen­eral man­ager Boyd Brown said Tel­stra engi­neers con­ducted fea­si­bil­ity anal­y­sis at four al­ter­na­tive sites around Napier and its tower’s orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion had been re­jected by the City of Albany be­cause of its prox­im­ity to main roads.

Its sec­ond op­tion was then snagged when a land­holder can­celled a lease agree­ment for the site in June last year.

“Tel­stra sought and found a sec­ond lo­ca­tion that would meet the cov­er­age re­quire­ments un­der the pro­gram and had reached an agree­ment with the landowner which sub­se­quently fell through,” he said.

“Tel­stra and the Com­mon­wealth are cur­rently con­sid­er­ing op­tions for this base sta­tion.”

Tel­stra in­formed O’Con­nor MP Rick Wil­son’s of­fice in Novem­ber that “all al­ter­na­tive site oper­a­tions in the area had been ex­hausted”.

How­ever, Mr Smoker be­lieved Tel­stra has not sourced ev­ery pos­si­ble op­tion made avail­able to them be­cause the pub­lic was not proper- ly con­sulted on the mak­ing of the mo­bile black spot tower.

“I don’t know the tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments of a tower but, to me, there are a num­ber of land­hold­ers (who had ) pos­si­ble sites and, from my knowl­edge, none of them has been con­tacted,” he said. “I just think they should be able to ne­go­ti­ate with land­hold­ers in good faith and have a bit of give and take.”

Mr Smoker said at present, there was no mo­bile phone re­cep­tion avail­able for their new fire shed next to Napier Hall, which will greatly af­fect fu­ture emer­gency calls. “From an emer­gency services side, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a big thing in fight­ing fires, so if you got one com­mu­ni­ca­tion side taken away, then we won’t be able to op­er­ate fully.”

A com­mu­nity meet­ing ad­dress­ing the tower is­sue will be held on Wed­nes­day, July 18, at 7.30pm at Napier Hall.

Pic­ture: Lau­rie Ben­son

Bush­fire Brigade vol­un­teers Tom Collins and Brett Smoker have to deal with in­ad­e­quate mo­bile phone cov­er­age in emer­gen­cies.

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