First responders react after crash cuts internet, phone service

Southern Haida Gwaii lost internet, cell phone, and some landline phone service last Wednesday after a driver hit a phone pole south of Tlell.

“Not only did a pole fall down, but all the wires snapped, too,” said Sergeant Terry Gillespie of the Queen Charlotte RCMP.

“That was the issue.”

Sgt. Gillespie said no one was seriously injured in the crash, which happened around 3 a.m. near the Crow’s Nest. The cause is still under investigation, but seems unrelated to the windstorm that gusted up to 98 km/h that night.

Telus crews started work on the cut phone and fibre-optic lines at 4:41 a.m., and reported fixing the problem by 7:30 p.m.

Gillespie said local residents with landline phones were able to call police throughout the 16-hour outage Wednesday by dialling the detachment directly at 250-559-4421.

“We’re still on old-school phones here, so that’s probably why ours still worked.”

Regular phones did not ring at the Haida Gwaii Hospital/Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay, however, because they are internet-based.

“I know there was local calling available, but because we have a digital IP system, we didn’t have a working phone system,” said Kerry Laidlaw, site manager for the hospital.

Even so, the hospital stayed fully operational throughout the outage, Laidlaw said, thanks in part to satellite phones and a VHF radio network that hospital staff, paramedics, and volunteer firefighters in Queen Charlotte and Skidegate arranged for the day.

“We went back to our pre-cellular days of handheld VHF radio,” he said.

In the Queen Charlotte ambulance station, paramedic Faye Beaulieu kept a VHF radio link with the hospital, and the regular ambulance line — 250-559-8294 — was still able to take calls from local landline phones.

Likewise, firefighters at the Queen Charlotte and Skidegate fire halls took turns manning the phone with a VHF radio in hand.

In Skidegate, the fire hall number 250-559-7700 also doubled as the ambulance line, since the department has members who can handle either type of call.

At the hospital, Laidlaw said emergency-room services were unaffected, and there were no patient or clinical concerns through the day.

The only inconvenience was that the medical clinic did bump some non-urgent lab work until the next day, and clinic staff were unable to download patient files.

“They just went back to pen and paper,” Laidlaw said. “No one was turned away, we got through that day — stayed late, and people stepped up.”

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