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Arizona Edition: How the Cocopah Tribe and City of Somerton Work Together to Aid Their Community

City of Somerton

This episode of Arizona Edition is part two of an interview that aired on KAWC’s Arizona Edition on July, 2, 2021.  

The city of Somerton and Cocopah Tribe began a relationship-partnership 20 years ago and that relationship has blossomed, bloomed and continues to grow every year. 

It has been beneficial to all our membership and to the city of Somerton, and we look forward to another 20 and then again, another 20 years after that. 

That will only serve to help all of our communities, and that's why we're here today, to make sure that all of our communities are safe. 

LG: That is Sherry Cordova, Chairwoman of the Cocopah Tribe, speaking at a recent celebration of a unique partnership between the city of Somerton and the Cocopah Tribe that created the Somerton Cocopah Fire Department 20 years ago.  

To find out more about this partnership and how it has impacted local fire and other public services in the region. I spoke with Chief Paul De Anda who worked at the Somerton Fire Department before the partnership and has spent the last 17 years at the Somerton Cocopah Fire Department.  

Chief Deanda says fire service for Somerton and Cocopah communities went from a few guys and some volunteers to a fully staffed fire department, and there were other benefits too. 

Fire Chief Paul De Anda (PD):  

Well, the big thing with our service methodology if you would, is that Somerton because its tax base couldn't afford to have a full fire department, that's paid now, there's a large fire department that covers all aspects of the needs of the community. And Cocopah, yeah, they're spread out. They have the east reservation, the West Reservation, their business enterprises. 

And so really, they need a station that's central. So by them, combining with the Somerton Fire Department they were able to create a department that from a central location could deliver services to all their business enterprises and to both the East and the West Reservation and all the wildland segment that's along the river. 

And of course, Somerton benefits, because now the city of Somerton also receives a stronger fire department because there's more full-time firefighters on it, and then the third part of it is, we have our certificate a necessity to the Arizona Department of Health.  

That's a significant necessity about 89 square miles. That's our ambulance area, and because we have all these full-time people, now we're able to maintain coverage in town reasonably well. While our ambulances are out transporting people. And so it's been a magnificent change in the way we run business down here. 


The Cocopah Tribe also has an incredible reputation for providing public safety training and awareness programs for other departments and groups. How has Somerton Cocopah Fire Department benefited from that base of knowledge at the tribe? 


It's incredible. Especially their emergency services officer, which is Mike Fila, he's just amazing. 

I came back when we had begun organizing, when they hired him. 

For every single employee in the tribe to receive CPR, first aid, and I don't think any governmental agency or non-governmental agency in the county that I know of has 100% of their people trained in CPR, First aid, like the Cocopah Tribe does thanks to Mike Fila, but in addition to that you know he's reached out to us.  

For example, when COVID hit, he was able to help us to get the rapid test kits and we're I think the only fire department in Yuma County that provides rapid testing for our employees and for the city staff and for the Cocopah Tribe if necessary. 

Well, we can test someone symptomatic and concerned they have COVID in 15 minutes. We'll know whether they have it or not. 

He was able to provide us the UV lighting that we use for both the public safety facility or ambulances or engines or squads. 

We have a program now where we set up the UV lighting and its UVC lighting, and that way we decontaminate all of our facilities and apparatus and that is just two examples.  

You know, the Cocopah Tribe reaching out and extending their ability to gain equipment and stuff for the benefit of the greater community, not just through the tribal members who are the citizens of Somerton, of the people in the county that we serve. 


That really allows the community to have a lot of confidence in its public safety. Yeah, you know, personnel in its community. 

 Speaker 3 

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And because the integration of the tribe with and the city of Somerton we were able to initiate programs that were nontraditional.  

For example, quite a few years back we set up with Amanda Aguirre and the Regional Center for Border Health. A community Paramedicine program, and so she identified all of their chronically ill patients and we set up a program where we visit them every two weeks. 

And we do, you know, a physical check of their homes where they live to make sure they're safe. 

But then we review their health. Well, actually sit down to do their vital signs. We will count to make sure they're taking their pills the way they're supposed to for their illnesses, and as a result, right previous to COVID. And we're still going full blown with the program. 

As far as the people that were chronically ill regarding high blood pressure, we were 100% in compliance. 

All of the patients that we were treating through the Community paramedicine program had become compliant. Their blood pressure was in the normal limits.  

I believe our people that were having diabetic problems that were chronically ill because of diabetes, we were able to bring them down into the like the 97-96 percentile of compliance. 

The only reason we could do the community paramedicine is because the Cocopah Tribe has joined with us and we have the backbone or manpower staffing available to be able to do that. Without that we wouldn't be able to do that. So now you see the tribe and they're joining us, reaching the citizens of Somerton itself and then of course, any of the tribal members that go to the Regional Center for Border Health, they would receive that help also. 


What are your hopes for the future of this intergovernmental agreement? It sounds like keeping it in place is important. 

PD: Oh, absolutely I. I don't ever see it going away to be honest, it's, it's that well run. It works for both the tribe. It works well for us. 

We were able to provide a level of service that we couldn't provide without us being joined together and you know having a unified front to the things that are challenges that we have. And as a tribe grows, and as a city grows well, then this agreement will just serve to provide the service that the people down here deserve.  

That otherwise would be difficult for the city's citizens of Somerton, because, again, our tax base in our tax revenues make it difficult to achieve the things we would like to. 


Thank you so much for your time and helping us understand this unique agreement. 


Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. 


Chief Paul De Anda of the Somerton Cocopah Fire Department, a unique and ongoing partnership between the Cocopah Tribe and the city of Somerton, to provide public safety services. It's celebrated 20 years, June 19th. 

Arizona Edition is produced at the Robert E Hardy Radio Studio Complex on the campus of Arizona Western College. Questions or comments about the program are welcome. Send them to  

Happy 4th of July. Stay safe and watch out for your pets this weekend.  

I'm Lou Gum. This is Arizona edition on KAWC. Thanks for listening. 


Lou grew up in Tucson and has a long family history in the state of Arizona. He began his public radio career in 1988 at KNAU in Flagstaff as a classical music DJ and has been hooked on public radio since, transitioning to news after trying his hand at several other careers in publishing and commercial broadcasting. Lou has a degree in American Studies from Arizona State University and was KAWC's Morning Edition host for two and half years before becoming News and Operations Director.
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