White Pine County commissioners agreed to tender a fire/EMS mutual aid agreement to the city of Ely at their meeting held on July 13. A former six-month agreement that had been negotiated last year, expired on June 30, resulting in city officials halting the delivery of services beyond the city limits.
Board Chairman Gary Perea said that the agreement will make both the city and county fire services stronger and will benefit the city as well as the county.
“I think it needs to be done,”he said.
Board member Richard Howe said that a solid agreement was needed between the two entities, and that both the city and the county were on board in fighting for the protection of residents.
“Everyone wants a mutual aid agreement,” Howe said.
He said that everyone seemed to agree that the $6,000 a month the county paid the city for service was too much, but that the amount was negotiable.
“If you do respond to one of our incidents, you will be reimbursed,” Howe said. “The point is that we sit down with the city and together, iron out something that is good for everybody.”
At the June 30 Ely City Council meeting, hours before the former mutual aid agreement expired, councilmembers were discussing their willingness to negotiate for fees, mentioning fees between $2,000 and $3,500 with overages being billed to the county, though they eventually decided to table further discussion until they heard from county officials as to whether they even wanted an agreement with the city.
Perea said that both fire departments employed good people and that there were those occasions when each agency would find itself busy and need help from the other. A point of contention though, was Ely City Attorney Chuck Odgers’ claim at the June 30 meeting, that city employees and volunteers would no longer be covered by Workman’s Comp should they be injured on a call outside the city limits. Odgers’ legal advice had a major influence on the council’s vote to ban the city’s fire department from responding to calls in the county, outside the city limits.
“Our legal requirement is to protect our employees and volunteers,” Odgers’ told the council at the June 30 meeting.
District Attorney Mike Wheable told the county commissioners that that claim was a “red herring” and a “point of confusion” in that under Nevada law, all agencies are covered when responding to a call outside their jurisdiction.
Commissioner Mike Coster said that he had read the statute and it was clear that all individuals are covered when they respond and that in all actuality, there was not even a need for a mutual aid agreement as the city was bound by law to respond and they also had the ability to recover costs.
“War is too important to be left to generals,” Coster said. “The fireman can work this out pretty quickly if left to do it alone.”
Coster fought against having an agreement, again stating that, under Nevada law, participation is mandatory if an agency is requested and that the statute allows costs to be paid, as well as coverage by Workman’s Comp.
“Why do we need the agreement?” he asked.
Wheable said that the mutual aid agreement was good in that it “let’s everyone know what our relationship is.”
Perea said that it may not be necessary but that it would be convenient and informative to the general public in letting them know, this is what the county is doing.
“If we don’t approve it, it will get out to the public that we don’t have an agreement with the city,” he said.
Coster said that it’s been law for years and that Nevada law was the higher authority.
Wheable said that their were provisions in the law that allowed public agencies to collaborate.
Coster said that the advantages to having an agreement was to let everyone know “we’re all on board.”
We have to respond, they have to do the same with us,” he said.
While discussing costs, Commissioner Laurie Carson said she would like to have something equitable to what BLM charges.
Coster said he wanted recovery charges but not design charges.
Coster moved to table the discussion but Perea said he didn’t want to put the issue out any further.
“I agree, let’s show good faith,” Howe said. I think we should go ahead and do this mutual aid agreement, move forward and show good faith — that we want to do this.”
The board voted 3-1 in favor of the agreement, with Coster casting the negative vote and Commissioner Carol McKenzie absent.
After the vote, Ely City Fire Chief Ross Rivera, who arrived at the end of most of the discussion, told the board that he wanted an agreement and that he didn’t want to muddy the waters with comments. He said that the job of the county fire and city fire was for the betterment of the citizens of the community.
“You need to stand up and make decisions,” he told the commission. “You need to get this done.”
He said it was a great thing voting on the agreement and that he was glad that the chiefs and volunteers didn’t have to get involved.
Perea, who had wrote a letter that was published in the newspaper (July 8), apologized that Rivera may have took what he had wrote in the wrong way.
“My intent was to leave the politics out,” Perea said. “I tired to leave that out of my letter.”
Perea said that what had slowed the process was the study the board had commissioned to study the fire department. He said that when the information was available, that would be the best time to sit down and figure out how best to cover the city and the county together.
“I think you have the same goals, just a different perspective,” Perea told Rivera.
Ely City Council meeting
The following night, despite the Ely City Council having agendized the mutual aid agreement, the agreement had not yet been sent to the council for approval.
Saying, “I’m going to be blunt,” Odgers told the council that he didn’t think they needed to have a contract with the county as the county can request a response through Nevada state law, as was discussed at the county meeting. He said that if the city responded to a county request, they could bill for the services at an established rate.
The discussion then turned to when the city could respond to a county request and Rivera said that he would prefer a mutual aid agreement so that there would be no delay should a catastrophe occur just outside the city limits in a place where city fire would have a time advantage in responding.
“I’d rather have a mutual aid agreement with a fee attached or a negotiated fee,” he told the council. “These are just starting costs for supporting county residents.”
The council discussed arranging a meeting with county officials, councilmembers Bruce Setterstrom and Kurt Carson, and city staff.
Odgers said that the county commission was recommending a mutual aid agreement with no exchange of funds.
Rivera said that it was better to have some kind of agreement between the city and the county.
“I think it’s important to sort things out properly in cooperation,” Rivera said.
Coster, who was attending the council meeting, said he didn’t know why the commission adopted the agreement as it had some blanks in it, and he didn’t know why it hadn’t yet been presented to the council. He reiterated to the council that Nevada law makes it mandatory to assist an adjacent community. He said that everything that was needed was laid out in the statute.
“As of tonight, both communities are protected by the statute,” he said. “Not having a written agreement does not mean anyone is more exposed.”
Changing his tune since the June 30 meeting, Odgers, too, said he didn’t believe the city needed to enter into a contract.
“At the end of the day we have an obligation to the taxpayers of the city of Ely,” he said.
Odgers said that there were already established rates that were used for insurance purposes and for billing. He said that if the city wanted to be reimbursed for costs, they could only go on a call if county fire requested it.
“We don’t need any contract,” he said. “If they call, we go there.”
Odgers said that if a request for mutual aid came in from the county, the city would have to respond to that request for mutual aid. The one caveat was that the request had to come from county fire, not dispatch or the White Pine County Sheriff’s office.
“If a fire is within sight, we could not respond.”
Coster said that any incident commander could call out for support.
Odgers said that as long as it was confirmed the request came from White Pine County Fire.
“The county is not interested in keeping the insurance policy in place that has been in place the last six months,” Odgers said.
Rivera said that it was wiser to take the front door approach rather than the back door approach as that was not safe for the community.