LIFE AND DEATH
By DAVID MOASE
A POPULAR children's Christmas gift is putting lives at risk by blocking vital emergency radio channels.
Youths using low-powered hand-held UHF radios to chat between themselves blocked the CB emergency repeater at Dorrigo for more than two hours on New Year's Eve.
Volunteers from the Coffs Harbour division of Australian Citizens Radio Emergency Monitors (ACREM) tried unsuccessfully to clear the channel.
According to ACREM national director Martin Howells, the local volunteers could only hope someone would not call needing help.
"In late 2004, a death occurred in Queensland when an emergency call could not be heard for some 40 minutes due to similar interference," Mr Howells said.
"(The Dorrigo) repeater is owned by the Urunga SES and used by the volunteer rescue and SES groups from Kempsey to Bonville, as well as the general public needing help, so the potential for this interference to place lives at risk is very strong."
The UHF band includes two frequencies for emergency calls, channels 5 and 35.
These frequencies are being blocked by hand-held walkie-talkie-style products that sell at electrical retailers and department stores for as little as $20.
The interference is not usually deliberate, Mr Howells said, but more a case of accidental misuse.
"Not many people realise these hand-held sets are in fact CB radios and as such certain channels are reserved by law for specific uses," he said.
"Parents need to be aware of this and warn children."
Mr Howells said truck drivers were also guilty of using the emergency channels because many don't realise there were now two such frequencies.
ACREM is a volunteer public benevolent institution dedicated to monitoring CB emergency channels relaying calls for assistance.
It is lobbying the Federal Government to have warning stickers attached to all UHF walkie-talkies.
"Our members hear calls from people who have had accidents, and in Brisbane recently there was a call about a house on fire and we were the first to contact the fire brigade," Mr Howells said.
"CB radios work where mobile phone often don't and these can be life and death calls.
"A life has already been lost because of a blocked frequency and we don't want it to happen again."