EVERETT — Copper wire thefts this summer have disrupted 911 services for people in Snohomish County.
Thieves in Everett and Gold Bar left 350 Frontier Communications customers without telecommunications service around Labor Day. In July, Frontier reported four cable thefts in an eight-day period in the Marysville, Snohomish, Skykomish and Granite Falls areas. No arrests have been made, The Everett Herald reported Sunday.
"It's a very large safety concern and it does cost us a lot of money" between supplies and repairs, said Ken Baldwin, Frontier Communications general manager for the Everett area.
The cost, however, isn't Baldwin's major concern.
Many customers, particularly the elderly, can't call 911 in an emergency after their cable is cut.
"For many, their phone is literally their lifeline," Frontier spokeswoman Emily Tantare said.
Then, there is the concern for the thieves themselves.
Telecommunications companies often share poles with power suppliers. Many Frontier lines are located near electric lines carrying high-voltage currents. As little as 4 feet routinely separates a cable line from a live wire. Nationally, dozens of people have been electrocuted over the years trying to strip metal from power poles.
"You can't put a value on a life," Baldwin said.
Statewide, Frontier has had 16 cable thefts during the past 12 months, including a dozen that happened well above ground level. During the previous 12-month period, there were 11 cable thefts, including four off the ground.
There have been no arrests.
Scrap metal is an $87 billion industry each year in the United States, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, D.C. Thieves follow the market and know the metal can be hard to trace.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported an 81 percent increase in insurance claims stemming from metal theft when comparing three-year periods between 2008 and 2011. Metal theft has been making headlines across the Puget Sound region this summer.
Over the years, Snohomish County has had its share of other scrap-metal thefts. Crooks have stolen church bells, funeral urns, bronze vases from grave sites, catalytic converters from cars, brass fittings for firefighting, sewer grates, manhole covers and even a 3,121-pound propeller.
Frontier officials hope people who suspect metal theft near power and telecommunications lines will report what they see.
They suggest calling 911 immediately and then notifying Frontier's security hotline at 800-590-6605.
"Call 911," Baldwin said, "You could be saving someone's life."