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Police, paramedics lose cell-phone use for 2 hours

Police, paramedics and fire crews lost a valuable means of communication for more than two hours Wednesday - cellular phones.

The AT&T-operated phones quit working about 5:30 p.m. Nearly all police units, fire engines and ambulances use the phones to communicate during emergencies."Paramedics use the phones to let hospitals know when they're bringing in a patient," said Salt Lake Fire Capt. Mike Tucker. "The phones also are used to keep the hospital workers informed and to put them on the scene."

Emergency crews used old-fashioned radio systems to communicate with hospitals until the cellular phones were restored, Tucker said.

The cellular blackout was caused by a short circuit in Seattle, which cut service to the entire nine-state Western Region, said AT&T spokeswoman Barb Shelley. In Utah, the blackout lasted two hours and 25 minutes.

"This has only happened twice in 12 years, so it's very rare," Shelley said.

Not many accidents or crimes were reported in Salt Lake County during the blackout, so it didn't present too much of a problem, according to police and fire dispatchers.

Police officers often use mobile phones to contact citizens who report crimes and to communicate with one and other, said a South Salt Lake police dispatcher.