Tagish first responders are concerned calls for help that get dropped due to unreliable cell service are leading to longer response times. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Unreliable cell service in Tagish a problem for EMS

The community is concerned dropped calls could put people at risk in an emergency

Emergency services officials in Tagish say the unreliable cellphone service residents have had since Bell upgraded the local network two years ago is impeding their ability to respond quickly to calls for help — a potentially dangerous issue that could result in tragedy.

The majority of calls to EMS come in via cellphone, Tagish Volunteer Ambulance supervisor Shelley Penner said, and staff often need to call back callers to get more details about the situation or directions to the location where help is needed.

“Now at home, it’s okay, we have a landline, but that’s not usually the case — when you’re rushing around, you’re using cellphones,” Penner explained. “… Unfortunately a lot of times the cell service just drops. You dial the number and it just hangs up, and it can do it four, five times.”

In a field where seconds can make a difference, Penner said valuable minutes are often spent trying to reconnect a dropped or garbled call. The issue hasn’t resulted in a fatality yet, she added, but no one wants it to get to that point before something changes.

The call reliability issues started back in spring 2015, when residents were told the old CDMA network was being upgraded to 3G, Tagish Local Advisory Council chair Myron Penner (Shelley Penner’s husband) said. Residents were given the impression that the old network, which works with older-model phones, would be phased out soon, and most people ditched their old cellphones for new smartphones that would work on the 3G network.

“It was good that winter, and then the spring of 2016, in May-ish, from around there, it started going down,” Myron said. “And of course (Bell) assured us, ‘Yeah, it’s going to get better again,’ but it has not gotten better at all.”

Myron said he’s talked to “a lot of Bell techs” since then who have given him a variety of theories on why the cell service quality suddenly declined. Theories range from leaves blocking signals to antenna deterioration to the network not having enough segments to the antenna being placed at the wrong angle. Myron, though, said Bell’s given him numbers for how many people the antenna is good for and has his own theory on what’s going on.

“It seems as though they’ve miscalculated on how many people actually use cellphones in Tagish,” he said. “One of the big things is, on long weekends or any type of holidays or events where Tagish can double or triple the amount of cell users… the people in emergency services noticed that immensely, on these days when there’s way more traffic in Tagish, it comes to the point where many are telling me that to make a call from (a cellphone) in Tagish, to a cellphone in Tagish, is pretty much impossible.”

Myron said he’s collected lists of “hundreds” of time-stamped dropped calls and sent them to Bell; although some representatives have called him back, he said no one’s actually shown up in Tagish yet to assess the situation or try to fix it.

“I mean, Tagish is a small community compared to all the other communities Bell deals with, obviously…. But everybody was used to a quality, especially emergency services and the system was set up for that, relying on the residents to transfer information through cellphones,” he said, adding that Tagish never had this kind of problem with the old network.

In a phone interview, Minister of Community Services John Streicker, whose first call to the News was dropped as he drove past Faro, said the Tagish LAC has been in touch with him about the network problem and that he’s “heard many concerns from residents in the last two or three weeks.”

“I’ve heard from a lot of folks, but the one that worries everybody is if we’re trying to deal with an emergency and a call gets dropped, or it’s garbled and we can’t hear when the person describes where they’re calling from and you’re not able to reach them, then that becomes a big concern,” Streicker said, adding that the system has reportedly “gotten quite a bit worse” over the past few weeks.

The cell network is being provided by a private business and is not a government service, Streicker said, so there’s only so much he can do, but the recent concerns have “prompted us to try and get Bell working on this more actively.” The company has provided him with an “action plan” on how it plans to investigate the issue, but no dates or timelines were provided for the proposed work.

Other communities, including those in his own riding, have expressed interest in improving their cellphone networks too, Streicker added, but the situation in Tagish is on a different level.

“What’s happened in Tagish, where the service seems to have degraded significantly, that, I’ve not had the level of concern raised by any other community,” he said.

In an email, Bell Canada spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis said Bell is “aware of the situation and working to address the coverage issues as quickly as possible… Our engineers are continuing their investigation. We hope to have a resolution as quickly‎ as possible.” Michelis did not respond to questions asking about whether any Bell staff have recently been in Tagish, the nature of work that needs to be done to diagnose the issue or when the work will be done.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

9-1-1Yukon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read