He has only been on the job for a few months, but the emergency manager is already working on projects for Stutsman County.
Andrew Kirking said he has been working on the new 911 system. He said Stutsman County will be on a new 911 answering system by the end of this month.
“We have been running stuff that has been more or less unchanged since 2011,” he said. “It was a great system at the time, but times change.”
The new 911 system will give dispatchers more detailed data and a more secure and clear connection, he said. He said the county can transfer its dispatch services to another dispatch center in a matter of seconds if anything happens to the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center building.
Getting integrated into the position
Kirking started on March 22 and replaced Jerry Bergquist, who retired after more than 30 years as Stutsman County emergency manager. Bergquist stuck around and helped get Kirking integrated into his position and make connections with the people he works with now.
“From my first start date, taking that two and a half months to try and condense his 30-plus years of knowledge and instill that into me, it was great,” Kirking said. “It was enough time for me to shadow what he had been doing and then take the reins.”
Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, said Kirking has very large shoes to fill with Bergquist’s retirement. He said it isn’t surprising that Bergquist would stay a little longer to help get Kirking integrated into the emergency manager position.
“That is not uncharacteristic of Jerry Bergquist because he has always been a team player for us and never missed a beat,” he said. “When you can have a transition go as smoothly as that did, and with that expertise that Jerry brings to the table with Stutsman County, because all counties are a little unique in their own way of how they conduct their businesses even though it’s the same line of work, but every system is somewhat different.”
Experience as emergency manager
Kirking, who is originally from Cavalier, North Dakota, earned his degree in emergency management from North Dakota State University and became the Pembina County emergency manager.
When he was Pembina County emergency manager, he learned about grant and training programs and how to make the county more prepared.
“(Pembina County) doesn't have the tax base like we do here in Stutsman, so rubbing pennies together to get a great product,” he said.
He then decided to apply for the emergency manager position in Stutsman County after eight years in Pembina County.
“So the knowledge that I could pick up locally with training from the state and some of our federal partners is what helped give me the confidence to take on a larger community like what you have here in Stutsman, geographically and population wise,” he said.
Kirking said his favorite part of being in Stutsman County is he gets to specialize in emergencies.
“Back home, I was emergency manager slash noxious weed control,” he said. “ … It’s the challenges that all these small communities face. So many of these small counties are trying to give the services that Stutsman does, that Cass does and unfortunately, they just don’t have the resources for that. So for me to come down here, from the second I clock in until the second I clock out, I get to live and breathe emergencies from floods to a fender bender on Main Street.”
Klose said Kirking has blended in nicely with the community and is doing a “very good job.”
“I think the commission, at least on my end of things, I’m very pleased in how things are going,” Klose said. “Andrew isn’t afraid to step up to the plate and get done what needs to be done. I’m looking forward to him being a happy employee in Stutsman County for many years to come."
Projects that Kirking is working on include installing a new backup generator in Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center, a radio upgrade and making the building more secure.
Kirking said Riley Schafer, assistant emergency manager/911 coordinator, applied for a grant to make the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center more secure. He said the project includes installing a few more cameras and radio-frequency identification or other equipment on the doors so the person opening the door can be identified.
“Even though the courthouse/law enforcement center still seems shiny and new, some of these improvements to help keep our people more secure, to help keep our citizens more secure (are needed),” he said. “That is going to go in in the fall.”
Kirking said the radio upgrade will happen next year. He said a new frequency band will allow for better penetration into the building, better encryption and better range.
“We will be able to talk to folks all across the state, which is wonderful for our ambulance,” he said. “For instance, when they need to do transfers from Bismarck to Fargo, we can stay in touch with them the whole way. So you get these severe storms, anything going on, it is just a great way to help keep track of our folks.”
Kirking said his dispatchers and Schafer are “wizards.”
He said Schafer has taken on all the mapping and the 911 addressing.
“He will just shoot from one project to another,” he said. “He is hungry to learn, he's hungry to give back and he is to a fault a perfectionist. The drive in that guy whose only background is being a sheriff (deputy), I never thought I would find something like that and be able to work with somebody like that. It is a joy for me to live up to those expectations of my staff.”
He said dispatchers in the Stutsman County Communications Center have worked all summer long, collecting overtime and giving up vacations.
“When they get a call on somebody’s worst day, they can pick up and answer,” he said. “... They have the wherewithal to work with our first responders, our sheriff’s department, our ambulance to talk them through until they can get to that next level of care. It is a level of you have to be in depth with that call -- the most important call of that person’s life -- where also you are listening to the phone call, listening to the radio traffic, and I’m typing in the report, all of this at once.”