A comforting voice in the wilderness
February 15, 2018
One small sound could trigger a wall of snow so massive the fire engines would be buried. Red Lake Grade was closed for avalanche control when there was an explosion and structure fire at Kirkwood. The only way for rescue vehicles to get through was to cross the danger zone. The year was 1993, and Christine Mills was the dispatcher on duty.
Anyone with a scanner will never forget the calm and measured voice asking the engines to check in at the bottom of the grade, maintain radio silence traveling up, and then to make contact again at the top. She led each vehicle one by one as listeners held their breath, waiting and hoping they would get there safely. There was no other pathway for rescuers to take in the dead of winter, and Mills made sure the firefighters and EMTs got there unharmed.
Alpine County has many unique circumstances because of its isolation, weather patterns, and wilderness. Mills has an intimate understanding of the individuals who live here and knowledge of the land itself. If you ever have to contact her for any reason, she always knows exactly how to respond.
"When you get a call, people are usually having one of the worst days of their lives," Mills said. "Dispatchers save seconds: seconds save lives. You have to be fast and efficient." One of the calls that has stood out over the years is when a young child fell into a hot tub and stopped breathing. The father knew CPR, and she supervised to keep the family on track. This story had a very happy ending. Christine loves her job because of this: she helps people and makes a real difference.
She wanted to dispatch so much that she offered to work for free, so Sheriff Skip Veatch originally hired her on as a temp. On her first call she was "scared to death," but after several part-time years, she went to full-time, and has been with the Alpine County Sheriff's Office ever since. She was a volunteer EMT from 1990 to 2004, going out on calls whenever she was not dispatching.
Things have changed a lot in Alpine over the years.
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"It is not a sleepy little town anymore," Mills said.
Dispatching is now only 10 to 20 percent of her job. Calls are handled the majority of the time through Douglas County 911 Emergency Services in Carson Valley.
Today Mills takes care of evictions, wage garnishments, records, real property sales and levies. One of her favorite things to do is enter arrest warrants into state and national databases (this helps to locate wanted offenders). She also does entries for stolen property and people on probation. She has written the office budget, done payroll, and processed claims. These are all areas where attention to detail and knowledge of the law are extremely important.
Mills processes and routes citations, works with the court and DA's office on cases, does statistics, and issues permits and licenses (for such things as dogs and explosives). Each year she organizes the vaccination clinic for local animals.
Being on the border between two states can create some unusual challenges. Mills took it upon herself to amend California Legislature Health and Safety Code 103050. It pertains to moving remains across state lines. Because most funeral homes and services are in Carson Valley, this helps families deal with the death of a loved one without complication.
Growing up in Carmichael, Calif., she moved to Alpine County in 1989. She had never seen snow before, and she loved it "until it started to stick!" She married and had her daughter Katy, now a successful accountant in Reno.
She has always been very close to her sister who lives in Lake Tahoe. Mills has been riding hunters and jumpers since she was 11, and has a special affection for Arabian horses.
She is currently a member of the Douglas County Mounted Posse. Although Mills moved to her "Freedom Ranch" in Gardnerville in 2010, it is obvious that those who live here are still "her people."
The best thing in her life? "Everything!" was her reply. She is an avid gardener, and even nurtured some remarkable artichoke plants this past season. She has three horses, two cats, and a rat terrier. She loves her job, and has lots of great friends. Her life is good.
She enjoys working with current Sheriff Rick Stephens and Undersheriff Spencer Case.
"It is everyone's job to make this place happy and positive" and they are a great team that does just that," she said.
She continues to "pack in as much living" as she possibly can. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated individual working here.
Mills has made a consistently positive contribution to our community.