Answers demanded on Aliant service loss in St. John's

N.L.'s emergency measures director wants to know how damage to a single power cable helped knock out communications in the St. John's area late Friday night.

Newfoundland and Labrador's emergency measures director wants to know how damage to a single power cablehelped knock out communications, including 911,in the St. John's area late Friday night.

Bell Aliant has begun an investigation after telephone, cellphone and internet services were lost for more than five hours beforesystems wererestored Saturday morning.

"Do I consider it serious? Absolutely," said Fred Hollett, director of the provincial government's Emergency Measures Organization.

"It severely hampers and hinders the ability of the public and the emergency responders to communicate," Hollett told CBC News.

A fire and a damaged power cable at an Aliant building in St. John's knocked out service for more than 100,000 people. The company said power at the Allandale Road building had to be cut to keep the fire from spreading.

Overheated connecter blamed for fire

Chief operating officer Frank Fagan said a connector on a one-inch-thick electrical cable became dramatically overheated and caused other wires to catch fire, damaging other cables and equipment.

Describing the incident as "very, very unusual," Fagan said an employee on duty used three fire extinguishers to contain the fire, and called in the St. John's Regional Fire Department.

"The immediate thing that you have to do in a situation like that is that you have to take the electricity [and] cut the current from the source to make sure that you don't …make it worse and so that you can safely fight the fire," Fagan said.

The power turnoff knocked out the backup system, which was located on another floor in the same building.

Fagan lauded the employee for deciding to cut power, noting that the situation could have been much worse if the fire had spread.

"That person did exactly what he should have done, and did it in a heroic fashion, in my view," said Fagan. "He acted in the finest manner."

The focus of the investigation will be the overheated connector, said Fagan.

"We know what happened. We have to just still figure out why it happened," said Fagan, who said similar connectors will be checked, and that an advisory will be issued to others in the telecommunications industry.

Loss of 911 tops list of issues

Hollett said he will be monitoring the investigation closely.

"We want to know why it happened and I also want absolute, clean, crystal clear clarification as to the redundancies that are in place for the next event," Hollett said.

The temporary loss of 911 will top the list of issues to be investigated.

Linda Bartlett was babysitting her granddaughter Friday night when the newborn stopped breathing. When she tried to call for help, the phone line was dead.

"I thought for sure we were going to lose her," said Bartlett, who is still shaken by the incident.

"Every time I step into my living room, I picture the baby in my friend's hands. She was stiff and wasn't breathing," she told CBC News.

A friend rushed the sick child to the Janeway children's hospital in St. John's, where the girl is recovering.

Fire departments, police and paramedics across the St. John's area used radios to communicate during the outage.

Extra emergency personnel were contacted in person and brought in to work in case of a widespread emergency.

The disruption affected the northeast Avalon Peninsula, but also stretched to other areas. Internet connections were knocked out province-wide, and residents in central Newfoundland were unable to contact the hospital in Gander.

Automated banking machines were also offline during the outage.