Douglas, Alpine have history of cooperation
If counties adopted sisters like cities sometimes do, California’s Alpine would be a perfect choice for Nevada’s Douglas.
Though they are separated by a state line, Alpine relies on Douglas for ambulance service, handling of 911 calls and occasionally, emergency supplies. Mutual aid agreements guarantee that one can provide emergency fire suppression and law enforcement services to the other.
“We have an exceptional relationship,” says Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini. “We don’t really consider that there’s a state line there. When they need us, we’d be more than glad to help them out and vice versa. It really works out well.”
“I can’t say enough about how good it is for us,” Alpine Sheriff Henry “Skip” Veatch adds emphatically. “It’s like we’re the little brother of Douglas.”
The synergistic relationship was evident again this week when Alpine initiated an intense search for two girls who got lost near an Alpine County lake. Douglas was one of six neighboring counties to send its search and rescue team to help.
Douglas has similar agreements with all the counties and cities that border it, both in Nevada and California, but the Alpine agreement is particularly noteworthy because of Alpine’s sparse population and isolation in relation to other California communities.
n Good neighbors. Douglas and Alpine don’t limit their interaction to emergencies. Several agreements that have been developed over the years have Douglas providing basic services that California would otherwise spend a fortune providing to Alpine – or that Alpine just wouldn’t have.
One of those is 911 service, an arrangement that is the only one of its kind in the nation, said Dick Mirgon, communications director for Douglas County.
Emergency calls made by Alpine residents are routed to Douglas County’s communications center in Minden. If calls for law enforcement assistance come during business hours, Douglas dispatchers transfer them to the Alpine sheriff’s office in Markleeville, where they are dispatched.
After hours, on weekends and on holidays, Douglas handles all the dispatching. Douglas also sends ambulances any time they’re needed, because Alpine contracts with the East Fork Fire and Paramedic District for emergency medical responses.
“This is one of those scenarios where everybody saves a lot of money,” said Mirgon. “They pick up 40 percent of our hardware costs, and Skip does not have to hire a lot of people he can’t afford.”
If Alpine had its own dispatch center, California state officials would be faced with high equipment costs, while Alpine would have to staff it. Instead, Alpine pays Douglas $12,000 a year for dispatching in addition to its share of the hardware costs.
n Ready to help Mirgon isn’t surprised when he gets a call from Alpine leaders in need of sandbags, disaster assistance or emergency supplies. California state responses can be slow, and in some cases, like the 1997 New Year’s Flood, impossible if weather shuts down the roads through the Sierra Nevada.
“We try and help them every way we can,” said Mirgon. “As long as we’re not having to expend our taxpayers’ dollars, we’re willing to help.”
Alpine reimburses Douglas for whatever supplies it uses. The counties don’t charge each other for firefighting or law enforcement assistance – another facet of their close relationship.
Deputies from both counties are cross-deputized and can help each other in emergency situations with approval of their respective shift commanders. Those emergencies can include everything from borrowing a drug-sniffing dog to quelling potential riots.
n Advantages of agreements. Pierini is especially enthusiastic about the mutual aid agreement. Douglas had law enforcement agreements with California’s Mono and El Dorado counties and the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, and Alpine was the final link.
“It’s something that really works out well,” said Pierini. “It really is good to be able to pool your resources.”
Veatch cites resources like Douglas’ Special Operations Response Team and the Tahoe-Douglas bomb squad.
“With law enforcement, our resources are extremely limited and we don’t have a SWAT team or a negotiating team,” said Veatch, adding, “It works both ways. With fires, we’ve been able to help Douglas a few times, but because Douglas is bigger and has more resources, we can use them.”
n Happily ever after. Both sheriffs are looking forward to a long, happy relationship between their counties.
“My hope is we can continue working the way we have. I don’t see Alpine County growing the way it needs to to be self-contained,” said Veatch.
“It only makes sense,” said Pierini. “It’s the right thing for us to do and when we need them, they’re more apt to help us.”