Cell signal hinders local first responders from contacting hospitals

Cell signal hinders local first responders from contacting hospitals (WRSP)

Fox Illinois first brought this concern up three weeks ago when MaCoupin County residents said they were having problems calling 911 because of bad cell phone service.

Now the worry is spreading and EMT drivers in Morgan County and Sangamon County are speaking up.

The Waverly Fire Department and EMT First Responders said they're frustrated.

They cover both Morgan and parts of Sangamon County, but they said, when they're treating a patient on the scene, many times they can't get a call through to the hospital for more help.

"Our job is to make sure we keep the patient stable and meet the paramedics,” said one Waverly EMT, Alysha Bongard.

She said when she's at a scene in Morgan or Sangamon county, she always tries to contact the hospital the patient will go to by cell phone.

"But unfortunately, sometimes,” she said. “We can't get through to the provider to find out what they want us to do."

She said the poor service has been happening for over a year.

"It's very frustrating,” she said. “We were yelling at certain people 'Everybody try calling right now!'”

Once on scene, EMTs go through protocol.

"We check blood pressure respiration and pulse. You know, ‘What's wrong? Are you ok?’”

If they're not, EMTs ask doctors over the phone for more help or for certain medical authorizations.

"Frustration and irritation because right now my focus needs to be on that patient and I can't,” Bongard said.

Bongard said she and the Waverly Fire Chief responded to a homicide a few months ago.

"We would get one or two words in,” said Chief Glen Brown. “And the call would drop out and that’s risking people's lives with us not being able to get calls."

It took seven calls for responders to get through to the hospital.

"So, we rely solely on AT&T or a landline,” said Chief Brown. “I hope they can help the whole community, just not Waverly, all surrounding areas need it."

The Waverly emergency responders use AT&T. They said other services have zero cell service including Verizon. They said they can only use radios for nearby buildings.

“We’re not here to bash AT&T,” said EMR Waverly Fire and Rescue, Leonard Gregg. “We just want them to respond to our needs and get our service up where it should."

Waverly EMR and the fire department hope for a new cell tower nearer to town. They said they even have a piece of land in mind for it.

"Seconds is minutes in somebody's life,” said EMT Bongard. “[Cell service] is not where your focus needs to be your focus needs to be on saving a life."

AT&T said there are other factors that could impact signal strength including terrain and building material.

They released a statement Monday for Morgan county, Il. It states: “We’re constantly evaluating the needs of our network to meet demand and provide a great experience for our customers. In fact, we have invested nearly $3 billion in our Illinois networks in the past three years, including in Morgan county. We plan to make additional upgrades in the area this year, including adding newer technologies and new cell sites. If customers have questions about their service, we suggest they contact our customer care team at 1-800-331-0500.”

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