Communications key in SA bushfire review

Tim Dornin
A review has called for SA fire crews to be equipped with better communications technology

Communications among emergency service crews, including the lack of technology to pinpoint the location of fire trucks, have emerged as a key issue, during a review of South Australia's devastating bushfires last summer.

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has presented his report to the state government after completing an inquiry that was constrained by COVID-19 measures limiting community engagement.

He still received about 600 submissions and conducted more than 100 interviews in a process he says was embraced by all stakeholders.

Mr Keelty says the SA's emergency agencies and volunteers did an exceptional job during the bushfire crisis in December and January when blazes raged on Kangaroo Island, through the Adelaide Hills and on Yorke Peninsula.

But he said it had emerged that some recommendations presented to governments after previous reviews had still not been implemented.

This included a need for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles to have electronic location devices installed.

"That's a really critical point in terms of workplace health and safety. We don't want to lose firefighters," Mr Keelty told ABC radio on Monday.

"It's important that we know where people are, that we know where the resources are.

"It's a really vital piece of infrastructure. In this day and age, it's just second nature that it should be there."

Mr Keelty was given a wide-ranging brief with the review's terms of reference including elements of prevention, preparation, the state's response to fires and the recovery processes.

He looked at key issues, including the development of a new state bushfire plan, the warnings given to the community as fires developed, how major incidents were managed and what resources were available.

His report is understood to include 15 recommendations to government.

In one of the worst bushfire seasons for many years, about 300,000 hectares of scrub, crops and other farmland was burnt with hundreds of homes and other buildings destroyed.

The worst blaze, on Kangaroo Island, blackened more than 200,000 hectares of scrub and farmland and claimed two lives.

Wildlife losses were also significant, with estimates that up to 40,000 koalas had perished.

In the Adelaide Hills, the wine industry was particularly hard hit with large areas of vineyards destroyed.