New Brunswick

One family's experience with a medical scare when 911 lines went down

After trying to call 911 several times, a family on the Kingston Peninsula drove 40 minutes to get their daughter to the Saint John Regional Hospital during a sudden emergency.

Usual emergency lines didn't work for about 90 minutes across the Maritimes on Wednesday morning

RCMP and other police services resorted to alternative emergency phone numbers during a phone outage Wednesday morning. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

When Beverly Bate dialled 911 on her landline, the Kingston Peninsula woman couldn't understand why she was unable to get through.

Her 12-year-old granddaughter needed to be rushed to hospital after a sudden emergency just before 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

"I kept hanging up because I thought I was doing something wrong," said Bate, a retired nurse, whose home is almost 40 kilometres north of Saint John on the St. John River.

At the time, Bate and her family didn't realize 911 lines were down across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

When she tried to get through to a dispatcher, she would get a recorded voice message that said her call wasn't going through and to stay on the line. 

Bate thought her phone wasn't working. But her daughter, the child's mother, called 911 several times on her cellphone and received the same recorded message.

"It was so weird that 911 wasn't responding," Bate said.

'It was terrifying' 

Eventually, her daughter was able to reach a dispatcher she believes was somewhere in the United States because of her accent and because the dispatcher had no idea where they were in New Brunswick.

The dispatcher told her to stay on the line, but the family needed to get to a hospital.

So they left — forgetting to lock the door behind them and losing a cellphone in their haste.

"It was terrifying," Bate said.

Beverly Bate and her daughter tried to call 911 several times Wednesday morning, but phone lines were down across the province. (Photo: Submitted)

According to Bell Aliant, a network switch failure in Moncton on Wednesday morning affected wireless and landline calls to varying degrees in the Atlantic provinces, including 911 service.

"The fact that the whole three provinces could go down and it was one switch in Moncton — that just seems crazy there's no backup," Bate said.

Including a ride on the Gondola Point Ferry, it took the famiy about 40 minutes to get to the Saint John Regional Hospital. On arrival, they found the hospital quiet, without any ambulance vehicles coming or going.

Bate said some doctors and staff weren't even aware the 911 service was down. 

Province was considering alert

Starting around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, police forces started tweeting alternative emergency numbers for people to call. At that time, the RCMP also said on Twitter that a public Alert Ready message had been requested, but nothing was sent out before the 911 service was fixed, which the RCMP tweeted at 10:42. 

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said the province was preparing for the provincial messaging when it learned that regular telecommunications services had been restored.

An alert would have gone to people's phones as a text message, informing them 911 lines were down.

"At the time that phone service was restored, we were considering issuing an alert as we determined the scope of the problem and solutions for members of the public impacted by the telecommunications issues," Downey said.

Bate doesn't have a cellphone. Her daughter does, but it's an Ontario number.

"Whether that text would've gone to her, given it's an Ontario number, I don't know," she said.

Paramedics arrive almost 3 hours later

When Bate and the family, including the granddaughter, returned from the hospital later that day, they spotted a "sweet note" left behind by paramedics in the entryway of her house. 

The paramedics had arrived three hours after the 911 call.

Paramedics left a note after responding three hours late to a 911 call on the Kingston Peninsula. No one was home at the time because the family was at the Saint John Regional Hospital. (Photo: Submitted)

Bate said she isn't sure when or how paramedics learned of the 911 call. In their note, they called it "a hangup."

"Of course, we did hang up because we couldn't talk to anybody," Bate said.

Since the door was unlocked paramedics went inside, where they were unable to find anyone in distress.

Their note also said they found a cellphone in the driveway and told the family to "take care." 


Elizabeth Fraser


Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip?