Eau Claire County (WQOW) – Those with stressful jobs know the importance of decompressing after a hard day, but that is not an option for one very unique position.
The Township Fire Department covers more than 200 square miles in Eau Claire County and there is just one person responsible for making sure the more than 100 volunteer firefighters are there to help when an emergency strikes.
On a quiet street on the east side of Eau Claire sits a home that looks like every other in the neighborhood.
On the inside, it’s the tenant’s job to help save lives.
“I literally live at work. When I go to bed at night, I’m at work. When I wake up in the morning, I’m at work,” said Ron Patraz.
His career is unlike any other.
“It was a little difficult to come up with a description of what it’s like because it is so unique. I don’t know of any other department in Wisconsin, I’m not even sure of in the country, that has their own full-time, dedicated dispatcher,” said Township Fire Chief Jack Running.
To say Patraz lacks a work-life balance might be an understatement.
“You’re basically here 24-7, 365,” Running said.
Because you don’t know when an emergency will happen.
“When I first started, there was no sleep, literally the first couple of months. You’d sleep for a couple hours, you’d jump up in bed. Did the phone ring? Did the radio go off? Did I hear something? I don’t think I vacuumed for two whole months, for fear of not hearing the telephone or the radio,” Patraz said.
Eventually though, a little normalcy is established in all the uncertainty. He worked to establish a routine and find tricks to make his life a little easier.
“On the other side of this wall is my stove. My headset actually stretches through my door and literally I’ve cooked meals during calls,” Patraz said.
On the day News 18 interviewed Patraz, the radio was mostly quiet. Patraz took advantage making up a meal at home. Always, he’s got his pager close by.
“When it goes off, it makes a very loud beep that will wake the living dead,” Patraz joked.
Because when you are always on call, duty comes before dinner. As soon as Patraz finished assembling his meal, his pager went off.
The initial call is relayed from the county dispatch to Patraz. Then, it is his job to get help there. He has a playbook called MABAS that tells him which crews to send to the scene.
“Attention attention, town of Seymour, town of Washington, town of Union. We have a report of a 10-50 PI at the 87.6 mile marker, freeway 53,” Patraz called over the radio.
From there, volunteer firefighters leave home, their jobs or even class to respond to the emergency.
“You’ve got the card in front of you, you know what’s supposed to go. With a little luck, that happens. When it doesn’t, you make due with what you’ve got. The first 15-20 minutes of any call gets very, very hectic in here,” he said.
When seconds count, the reason for this unique setup becomes more clear.
“We have a person that when we call we know that person is there, working with us only not working between two or three agencies,” Running said.
In this particular call, crews were called off before they arrived, but Patraz knows that’s not always the case.
“When I took this, I discovered there is much more good than bad,” Patraz said. “I get to work with some of the best people. These guys and gals give up their time, they risk their lives to go out there. When I retire, I’m probably going to be very bored. I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Patraz confesses that it takes a special type of personality to excel in the job. He gets just 60 hours off a month and just five days of vacation a year. When we say he’s always on call, we mean it. He once had to work 38 straight hours during a bad ice storm.
However he said working, and knowing he’s making a difference everyday, makes it all worthwhile..
As we’ve reported in the past there is a shortage of volunteer firefighters statewide and it’s no different at the Township Fire Department. To learn more about how to join, click here.