Rangers, first responders frustrated by avoidable tragedies

Issued: 10 Jan 2023

Increased rain over the summer months can lead to dangerous swimming conditions within creeks and rockpools across Queensland National Parks.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) is teaming up with Queensland Police, Queensland Fire and Emergency and Queensland Ambulance services, urging people to be mindful of their safety in national parks and cracking down on those who dangerously ignore signs and directions that are there to keep people safe or enter restricted access areas, putting themselves at risk and risking the lives of those who try to rescue them.

While most visitors follow directions from park rangers and signage, QPWS continues to see people unlawfully enter the restricted access area at Josephine Falls within Wooroonooran National Park, south of Cairns, risking real consequences including hefty fines, spinal injuries, broken bones and loss of life.

In the past three months, QPWS has ordered more than 20 people to leave the park and issued six $431 on-the-spot fines to visitors that were caught on the wrong side of the fence at the falls.

In the same time period, there were three serious incidents that required emergency assistance, resulting from people entering off-limits areas within the national park.

QPWS A/Senior Ranger Roger James said every one of those incidents was totally avoidable.

“You don’t need that selfie. You don’t need to jump off that big rock. You don’t need to show how brave and fearless you are. It’s never worth it,” A/Senior Ranger James said.

“Every time another person gets injured or dies, we have to consider additional measurers like further restrictions or closures and impacts on the natural environment to put in more barriers and signs, and issue more fines – and nobody wants that.

“Park rangers carry out regular patrols of the falls area and we won’t hesitate to issue a directive to leave or fine anyone caught ignoring the signs and climbing the barriers.

“A $431 fine does hurt, but it’s nothing compared to what could happen. We don’t want to make a call to anyone’s family to advise that they have been seriously or fatally injured.”

These avoidable incidents often require significant resources from the local police, fire and ambulance services, taking them away from small communities south of Cairns.

Queensland Police Service Far North District Country Eastern Patrol Inspector Brad Winks said all assets involved in a search and rescue operation put their lives on the line.

“Specialist teams are flown in from across the state to search in dangerous conditions often for days at a time,” Inspector Winks said.

“No officer wants to be the one to then knock on a family’s door to say their loved one won’t be coming home.”

Far Northern Region Acting Inspector Michael Beck said QFES crews responded to more water rescues between November and January than any other time of the year.

“People often underestimate the hazards associated with visiting creeks and rockpools such as steep banks, slippery and uneven surfaces, changing water levels and strong currents,” he said.

“Dangerous situations occur when people enter restricted areas, ignore warning signs, and fail to prepare for the elements.

“These incidents can be avoided by staying on designated paths and board walks, swimming within designated areas and checking the water level and current before entering.”

QAS Acting Senior Operations Supervisor Lauretta Howarth said every preventable incident was frustrating for paramedics and had an impact on first responders.

“Complacency around fast flowing water can have catastrophic results for community members and those on the frontline,” Ms Howarth said.

“Enjoy our spectacular rivers and waterfalls, but please don’t put yourself, and our first responders including paramedics at risk by making poor decisions around our waterways.”

National Park visitors are reminded to take care around water:

  • Always read and heed on-site information and signs. Follow directions on signs—directions are provided for your safety.
  • Always supervise children when near water.
  • Know your own limits.
  • Stay out of water if conditions look dangerous.
  • Don’t swim alone and don’t put yourself or others at risk.
  • Take care when swimming in creeks, lakes, rivers and dams.
  • During and after heavy rain, creek conditions can change and become dangerous. Fast flowing, rapidly rising water—with strong currents—can occur. Stay safe—do not enter the water.
  • Be aware of potentially dangerous wildlife in and around water.
  • Be crocwise in croc country
  • Be aware of marine stingers and other marine creatures.
  • Use established tracks to access the water.

Read more information about Josephine Falls.