Van Buren resident Lisa Brissette tells town councilors about how the death of her husband on a remote road with spotty cellphone coverage inspired her to improve rural emergency cellphone service. Credit: Chris Bouchard / Aroostook Republican & News

VAN BUREN, Maine — After months of hard work following the death of her husband, Lisa Brissette of Van Buren worked with government officials and AT&T to bring better emergency communication capabilities to rural parts of Maine where even emergency cell service was lacking.

Arthur Brissette, 56, slid his truck into a snowbank in Cyr Plantation outside of Van Buren on Jan. 13, 2017. Since he could not get a signal to call for help, Brissette walked half a mile to find assistance. After a young man helped Brissette remove his truck from the snowbank, Brissette collapsed and died there.

After her husband’s death, Lisa Brissette pushed for better cell signals in rural areas. She contacted U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and former Gov. Paul LePage. Collins helped Brissette file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.

LePage helped her contact a public advocate, who then reached out to several cellphone carriers and found that AT&T was willing to take on a project to improve coverage in Maine.

Arthur Brissette died at age 56 when his truck slid into a snowbank and he didn’t have a phone signal to reach 911. (Courtesy of Lisa Brissette)

As a result, AT&T has entered into a public-private partnership with an independent agency within the federal government called First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet Authority, designed to get information to first responders in a more immediate fashion.

The company describes it as a nationwide high-speed broadband communications platform built for first-responders and the general public safety community.

“This is like giving public safety communications the ‘lights and sirens’ treatment so that they stay connected, no matter the emergency,” AT&T said.

The company has added network cell sites in Penobscot, Oxford, Somerset, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox and Aroostook counties. It has completed one of its first FirstNet sites in Van Buren.

“While Arthur Brissette was not an AT&T customer at the time of his death, we worked closely with several state agencies after the accident to prioritize the area and bring improved communications to Maine’s rural areas,” AT&T said.

AT&T also said the company is collaborating with rural network providers to extend FirstNet’s reach in other rural communities similar to Van Buren.

“My loss still is extremely painful, but knowing that a life or two could be saved by them partnering with FirstNet, in memory of my husband Arthur, this is heartwarming for myself, my daughter and our family,” Brissette said. “I take some comfort in knowing the fate he suffered that day has not gone unnoticed and he would be proud to know what has been done to save people in need of help in the future.”