A 911 system failure in a community west of Ottawa might have prevented first responders from saving a 70-year-old man's life.

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This yard is where Clayton church volunteer Carl Welk, 70, collapsed as he raked the dirt. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Carl Welk, 70, died the morning of July 5 after collapsing in the yard of Guthrie United Church in Clayton, Ont., about an hour drive southwest of Ottawa.

Welk, a volunteer at the church, was performing some maintenance in the yard.

People nearby tried to call 911 when Welk fell to the ground while raking dirt but they couldn't get an answer, according to Margaret Munro, who lives across the street from the yard.

There was no answer for about 30 minutes.

"I called and called, and it rang and rang," she said, adding other people nearby tried their phones to no avail.

Fire chief couldn't reach 911 either

Another man at the scene, who began CPR, decided to call the fire chief for the township of Mississippi Mills, Art Brown, to see if he could try dialing 911.

Brown, who was 13 kilometres away sitting at his desk in Almonte, Ont., also didn't have success using the fire station's phone.

He sent a local ambulance and drove to the churchyard himself to take over resuscitation, but Welk later died.

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Clayton, Ont., resident Margaret Munro says numerous people frantically called 911 from landlines and cellphones but nobody could get through. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Brown said there is no way to know if the man would have survived if 911 had been working right away.

It is still not known who is responsible for the 911 breakdown, which residents say lasted at least 45 minutes.

Lanark County official have asked for an explanation from the Central Emergency Reporting Bureau. That is still pending.

Brown said 911 calls were dispatched out of North Bay, Ont., but the dispatch centre disputed that claim.