After 32 1/2 years, countless storm warnings and blizzards and 20 presidential disaster declarations, Jerry Bergquist is retiring from the posts of Stutsman County emergency manager, 911 coordinator and communications center manager at the end of June.
During his interview for the jobs, he thought he was being hired exclusively as the 911 coordinator.
"A week or so later, Lary Olson told me I was also emergency manager," Bergquist said. "Then in the process of working with 911, I had to find out who was running dispatch. It went back and forth between the Stutsman County Commission and the Law Enforcement Center Governing Board for a while and then I found out I was running dispatch."
All of that transpired in the fall of 1989. The Stutsman County voters had approved a tax on telephone service to fund a 911 system. Bergquist managed the process of establishing addresses for people living in the country. This replaced the rural routes that had previously served as addresses outside cities.
The system, when it became operational at the beginning of 1990, was the second countywide 911 system in North Dakota.
"It took a lot of teamwork and knowledge building," Bergquist said. "We had to buy equipment, make changes to the dispatch center, create the database of addresses and define the boundaries of all the first responder agencies."
At that time all addresses were associated with a landline telephone. That changed over the years as cellphones became more common and calls could come from anywhere.
"We created a digital map of the county," Bergquist said. "The map showed the quickest route for the responders to get to an incident."
Bergquist considers the 911 system a lifesaver.
"Before 911, people had to know who to call and the numbers for sheriff, fire department, ambulance," he said. "The 911 system took all the guessing out of that. No way to know how many lives we potentially saved."
Developing the data and procedures for the 911 system was a massive undertaking but occurred during a drought with fewer duties for the emergency management part of his job, Bergquist said.
"In the spring of 1993, it started to rain," he said. "My recollection is about 25 inches of rain in July that year."
The heaviest rain came while Bergquist was attending a conference of emergency managers in Medora. He had difficulty getting back to Jamestown because sections of Interstate 94 were underwater.
Flooding associated with the heavy rains prompted the first presidential disaster declaration for Stutsman County. It was also the first of 20 declarations that Bergquist worked with.
"That was the first time I worked with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)," he said.
Over the years, Stutsman County has been included in 17 disaster declarations due to flooding, one associated with the excessive snow of the winter of 1996 to 1997 and two national declarations for Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
"We were running three declarations at the same time last year," Bergquist said.
The most intense disaster was the flood in the spring of 2009, he said.
"No comparison," Bergquist said. "It was an extremely long event that ran from late February through the middle of July. We broke so many records for water releases (from Jamestown and Pipestem dams) and elevations of water."
Two years later, the situation was similar.
"The 2011 flood broke the record for the volume of water that went through Jamestown," he said. "We had a spring flood and huge summer rains north of this area."
Along with floods, the office of the emergency manager has dealt with tornadoes, hail, straight-line winds and other natural disasters.
Through it all, Bergquist said he never had a desire to change jobs.
"In my prior jobs, after about six years, I felt there was nothing more I could bring to the job," he said. "I never had that feeling here."
"Changes on the job have made this a good time to consider retirement," Bergquist said. "There is a new communications system and there is no reason for me to learn that technology."
Local leaders said they will miss his presence at the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center.
"Jerry is likely the single most dedicated and meticulous public servant I’ve had the pleasure of serving with," said Jamestown Chief of Police Scott Edinger. "His knowledge, experience and willingness to devote every ounce of his energy to a project to protect Stutsman county is going to be missed. He helped lead Jamestown and Stutsman County through countless disaster declarations and recoveries. His retirement is well deserved."
Andrew Kirking, the newly hired emergency manager, 911 coordinator and dispatch center manager, said he has been privileged to learn from Bergquist before assuming all of his roles.
"There has been a lot to transition," he said. "I've been here two and a half months. I don't think two and a half years would be enough."
For Bergquist, retirement does mean some changes.
"I won't miss being on call for 24 hours a day for 32 and a half years," he said. "I will miss the people and the relations and teamwork. I've worked with many agencies to bring people together to solve problems."
Teamwork and consensus-building have been the most important parts of his job and he would like to include those skills in whatever he does in the future.
"It is interesting to see where I go from here," Bergquist said. "I don't have an answer for that."
But he does have an idea of what he'd like to do in retirement.
"I'm looking for something a little similar," he said. "But not at all on this scale."