N.S. fire chief raises concerns over lack of radio contact after Fiona
'It's pretty nerve-racking when you're driving around trying to get people to help you'
A volunteer fire chief in northern Cape Breton says being unable to contact RCMP or the ambulance service after last week's storm was scary.
The trunked mobile radio system — known as TMR2 — used by first responders in Nova Scotia is run by Bell Mobility and was out of service in parts of Victoria County, N.S., for up to seven hours the day after post-tropical storm Fiona hit.
Last week, the company said its systems were fully functional despite the storm.
Now, the company is not talking about the radio outage.
Ryan Costelo, chief of the volunteer fire department in Ingonish, said it was a scramble when a neighbour showed up at his door saying her sister-in-law had suffered a massive heart attack, but the 911 system was not working.
Discovering the TMR2 system was down, he used the old very-high-frequency radio system that firefighters often use as a backup, although Costelo said that's not ideal when RCMP or a paramedic are needed.
"We still had VHF coverage, so I was able to contact our dispatch, which is in CBRM, but they had no way to contact anybody else, so it was a bit chaotic," he said.
A dispatcher took about 40 minutes to get back to him and then told Costelo to drive over to the ambulance base to find a paramedic.
"It's pretty nerve-racking when you're driving around trying to get people to help you," he said.
The fire chief said he has not been told why Bell's radio system went down.
"I don't really know the ins and outs of it. I just expect that when I pick it up, it works," Costelo said.
The TMR2 system is an important tool that allows first responders to talk to each other and co-ordinate efforts.
"I think it's an amazing system that everybody across Canada should be on board with," Costelo said.
"It's actually something I talk about, about being proud to be Nova Scotian because it was created here, but at the same time, there's always room for improvement and this was a big issue that hopefully will never happen again."
Response from Service Nova Scotia
Service Nova Scotia's public safety division said in an email the radio outage lasted seven hours at three sites in the Cape Breton highlands.
However, the province said the system is owned and operated by Bell and any questions about the outage should go there.
The telecommunications company initially said a generator was damaged by the storm, but declined to provide any further details and refused a request for an interview.