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School, parents await answers on Grammar No. 2

ELKO – After another afternoon of meetings with state officials, the school district is still looking for answers on when Grammar No. 2 can open its doors.

Students and faculty are being kept out of the building for at least the first week of school after a rabid bat was discovered in one of the classrooms Aug. 25.

Because of bats nesting around campus, the state health department directed the school district to get all bats out of the building before allowing classes to begin.

A statement from the Nevada Department of Agriculture said only a small percentage of bats in the state test positive for rabies.

“Even though rabies virus prevalence in Nevada’s bat populations is low (estimated at approximately one percent), the ADL confirms between 10 and 20 cases of bat rabies per year, usually between the months of May and October,” the statement said. “To date, the ADL has tested 60 bats in 2017, and four were positive for rabies.”

Once a bat contracts rabies, it can behave abnormally and sometimes lose its ability to fly shortly before dying.

The school district is hoping the bats will not have to be eradicated before the school can open, as the animals will migrate in the next few weeks when the temperature drops.

“It would give us an opportunity to do some sealing different things up and work towards next summer as a time to get the roof off the building and replace that roof,” said Zander.

While the department of agriculture waits on a bat expert, who is scheduled to come into town to inspect the school later this week, the parents of Grammar No. 2 students are not sure when or where their children will have their first day of classes.

An announcement posted on the school district’s website Monday morning informed the public about the closure but did not give a timeframe for when the school would open.

Zander said he hopes to follow up with parents before the end of the week.

“I don’t think we’ve had any contact with parents since this weekend. Hopefully we’ll be able to make a decision by Wednesday or Thursday and get back to parents,” he said. “At this point in time, we’re not certain if we’re going to have classes at Grammar School No. 2 or if we’re going to have those kids go up to Adobe or Mountain View.”

Because the safety of the school is still being determined, the school district is preparing to move more than 300 students to other schools if Grammar No. 2 cannot open next week.

Zander said spare classrooms are already being set up.

“We’re still trying to get a letter from the state that would allow us to go back into the school and put the kids back in the school,” he said. “We’re being proactive in regards to cleaning up some vacant classrooms in case we have to move kids.”

Toni Milano / Toni R. Milano  

Great Basin College nursing instructor Tamara Mette speaks at the dedication ceremony of a granite bench in memory of Tiffany Urresti as Amber Donnelli, dean of health and human services of Great Basin College, watches.

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A nursing legacy: Tiffany Urresti honored at Great Basin College

ELKO – The life of Tiffany Urresti — flight nurse, volunteer firefighter and Great Basin College alumna — was memorialized Aug. 25 with the dedication of a granite bench.

Urresti was one of four people who died in the crash of an American Medflight plane Nov. 18, 2016, as it was transporting a patient to Salt Lake City.

Amber Donnelli, dean of health science and human services, said the donation was “a way for us to continue Tiffany’s legacy.”

“The success, the drive and the importance that she made in our community – that is her legacy,” Donnelli said.

Urresti attended GBC as a nursing and fire science student. She graduated in 2012 with her nursing degree and subsequently earned a bachelor of science nursing degree in 2014.

The granite bench is near the Gallagher Health Sciences building that houses nursing classrooms and faculty offices.

Purchased through donations from numerous nursing students, the idea for the bench came from the Student Nursing Organization, whose members wanted to keep Urresti’s memory alive for future nursing students.

“This is now a place for future nurses to get inspired and to recognize the importance of Tiffany’s selflessness and the giving of oneself to their passion,” said Robyn Pilz, student nurse and SNO member.

Urresti’s parents, Jim and Debi, are donating to a trust to purchase stethoscopes for first-year nursing students each year.

The family chose to fund stethoscopes because there are already scholarships in Urresti’s name, including the Tiffany Urresti Legacy Scholarship and a flight nurse scholarship through the Nevada Nurses Foundation, said Debi Urresti.

Friends and colleagues took to the lecturn to remember Urresti, who was a nursing and fire science student at GBC.

Jim Foster, Urresti’s fiancé, said the bench was “a very heartwarming gesture that is filled with a sense of sadness and a sense of loss,” but brought a “closeness and comfort that can be felt here … It’s a place to honor and memorialize a professional that served our community, not just as a nurse, but as a volunteer firefighter.”

Jim and Debi Urresti said the bench was meaningful to the family, and they sat at the bench for two and-a-half hours after they learned it was installed.

“Her dream was to be a flight nurse,” said Debi Urresti.

Nursing instructor Peggy Drussel shared memories of Urresti’s student nursing days and said the bench was an opportunity to take “so much grief and turn it into something positive.”

Foster also said Urresti was also interested in returning to GBC as an instructor in the nursing department.

“She wanted to be able to give back so that others may learn.”

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How Elko Dispatch Center coordinates wildfire response

ELKO — The Elko Interagency Dispatch Center is the hub of fire response in the Elko area. Shauna McIntosh-Harris, the center’s manager, described what happens when a lightning storm moves through the Elko area and wildfires roar to life.

Telephone reports of fires come into the center and dispatch personnel have to determine if the report is an actual fire, or simply smoke from another fire or a dust devil moving through an old burn. During a major fire start, personnel may receive dozens of phone calls and they try to determine if each phone call is describing the same fire or reporting multiple fires.

Having received reports of a fire, dispatch calls out a fixed-wing aircraft to fly to the fire and check its size, fuel and activity. The pilot determines initial resources needed to fight it and then act as an air traffic controller for other aircraft arriving at the fire.

A slower helicopter is also sent, carrying a helitack crew, often the first firefighters on the fire. The helicopter usually also carries a bucket to start putting water on the fire. At the same time, ground personnel are sent to the scene.

As firefighters converge on this new fire, an Incident Commander begins radioing dispatch to order other resources. Dispatch keeps track of all available resources, fire engines, dozers, water trucks, aircraft and firefighters. Depending on who is closest to this new fire, they can draw from BLM and Nevada Division of Forestry bases in Elko, Wells, Carlin and Midas, along with crews and equipment from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Duck Valley Fire Department and Elko County.

Ranchers may offer equipment and help on fires near their property and grazing allotments. A giant wall map keeps track of the location of all area fires, while a resource status board and computer-automated dispatch system track all personnel, equipment and aircraft.

During a wild series of lightning-caused fires, dispatch may call on neighboring resources in Nevada, Idaho and Utah. The problem is these locations are often fighting their own fires, from the same storms. Dispatch can also call on the Great Basin Coordination Center in Salt Lake City.

As fire crews are dispatched to a fire, the areas they were protecting must still be covered. Using a move called “bump and cover,” resources from farther off are called in to cover the areas vacated by crews sent to a fire.

Fast response, called initial attack, is critical and when lightning storms are forecast for a particular area, crews, engines, aircraft and other equipment can be pre-positioned to wait for reports of fires.

The Oil Well Fire east of Elko was so close that crews were on the fire 5-10 minutes after it was reported. McIntosh-Harris said it takes longer to get resources to more remote fires like Snowstorm north of Battle Mountain.

During the summer fire season, the Dispatch Center may be manned 24/7 using a crew of seven to 12 employees. The building also has an Expanded Dispatch, to provide additional dispatch help. It is manned by personnel coming from as far away as New Hampshire, Minnesota or Michigan. This Expanded Dispatch was not used during the summers of 2015 and mobilized for a short time in 2016 but has been manned all of this summer.

To keep an accurate status of all resources, dispatch must also keep track of all equipment breakdowns and down time for firefighters, who require an eight-hour rest after a 16-hour shift. A 12-hour shift earns at least six hours of rest.

Dispatch also gathers needed intelligence. They coordinate with the Elko Forecast Office, gathering info on approaching storms and warnings. They disseminate this intelligence in daily briefings to all fire crews.

McIntosh-Harris described what it is like when lightning storms moves through, as crews also work to contain several older fires. She said it gets “crazy busy” in dispatch but it is all very energetic, as her crew juggles resources needed to fight wildfires around Elko.


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School enrollment down

ELKO – School district enrollment is down from recent years, according to first-day head counts conducted Monday.

The district is down about 100 students from what it had last year, but the dip in student population is not a huge surprise after the surge of students that went through the primary grades over the past five years.

At the start of the last school year, the district had 9,550 pupils in its classrooms.

Elko County School District Superintendent Jeff Zander said the drop in student numbers was expected because the number of children being born in the area has been declining.

“We had a demographic study over the past two years when we were trying to make determinations on where to build our next school,” he said. “During that study, they checked all the hospitals in the region in regards to the number of births, and the birth rate dropped over the past two years.”

Zander also pointed out that gauging the student population from year to year is difficult because student numbers are heavily influenced by fluctuations in the local mining industry.

The district has been dealing with overcapacity issues the past few school years, particularly at Spring Creek elementary. Zander said he hopes to see the number hold steady for a few years while the district looks to build another school in Spring Creek.

On Aug. 22, the Spring Creek Association board of directors approved the sale of property to the school district for a future elementary school in the Marina Hills area of Spring Creek.

“I’m grateful that we’ve seen a little bit of a slowdown. Spring Creek elementary is up around 840 students right now,” he said. “We need to do something to address that. We have done a four-classroom expansion on Sage out there, which will provide a little more room, but we are at capacity in Spring Creek right now.”

The district is still dealing with classrooms near or at capacity in Mountain View Elementary, as well, but projections indicate this will be less of a problem in a few years.

Zander said student enrollment numbers appear to be heading back to average.

“This is probably a trend,” he said. “I think we had a spike in birth rates there for a couple years, and I think we’re seeing things normalize, and we’ll get back to regular numbers.”