Vale Bob Knaggs, pioneer of hand-held radios at CFA

When CFA was formed in 1945, Bob Knaggs had already been a member of South Wangaratta Bushfire Brigade for five years. 


Bob passed away earlier this year after giving 80 years of service to South Wangaratta brigade.

Bob was a very active member of the brigade, attending many of the fires in the area and neighbouring districts, and went on to become an integral member of both the brigade and the community. Over time Bob took on leadership roles. He was brigade secretary/treasurer for two terms and third lieutenant for two terms, as well as the brigade delegate for the Wangaratta Group for many years.

But it was through his keen interest in radio communication that Bob really made a significant impact both at his brigade and the wider fire brigade community. Bob became the brigade communications officer in 1963 and remained in the role until 1998.

He served on the Wangaratta Group Wireless Committee for a number of years from the 1960s and remained involved in an advisory capacity until 1998.

Through his love of radio communication and his partnership with several other radio enthusiasts Bob opened up a new world for firefighting. He constructed, then pioneered the use of, a hand-held radio for the fireground - something we now take for granted. Bob also built and installed a radio unit into his own vehicle, which became known as South Wang Mobile.

Over time more vehicles had a ‘Bob special’ in their car. This enabled an officer in charge at an incident to set up forward commands and support tanker operations, and really kickstarted radio communications as an innovative tool in the Wangaratta Group and across the state.

Another Knaggs innovation was the listening set. It wasn’t something you could carry around in your back pocket, but it was a simple idea that allowed firefighters to find out about incidents, and gave them a heads-up to get ready in case the phone rang and the brigade was called to action. There were no pagers in those days.

The listening sets also allowed the families left behind to find out when the firefighters would return home.

South Wangaratta brigade is also indebted to Bob for his generous donation of a parcel of land that allowed the brigade to build its first fire station.

Bob was a quiet achiever who was awarded an Outstanding Service Badge in 1991, and CFA Life Membership with his 70-year service medal in 2010.

Author: News and Media