Passions don’t always make sense.
Sometimes they are so novel there’s not even a label for what we love to do, or someone wise enough to pay us for it. Yet, still, never stop following them.
If in doubt, just ask Terry Rottier, who as a kid growing up in West De Pere would pretend to be a cop one day and a firefighter the next.
In most places, that would force him to decide between holding water hoses or handcuffs—but not in Ashwaubenon.
The lieutenant is a 14-year veteran of the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department, which boasts 50 sworn officers all trained as police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
The force began operating in 1980 and is the only known agency in the state that allows officers to wear all three hats.
Rottier, like many of us, wasn’t sure as a kid what he wanted to do for a living. At 18, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Lawrence volunteer fire department. That means he was willing to risk his life (for free) to benefit others.
“It was fun, because you were helping the community and you were doing it for the right reasons,” he recalled.
It wasn’t until he interned at the Ashwaubenon Public Safety dispatch center in the mid-1980s that he identified his drive to be a triple-threat.
“Deep down, this is where I always wanted to work,” he said.
But his happy ending didn’t come quickly.
He went on to work security at an area big-box retailer for 12 years, but—never losing sight of his goal—still applied to become an Ashwaubenon officer. After trying for the fourth time, he told himself he may be getting to old to be an officer and if he wasn’t hired he would let his dream go; but, as if often goes, he then got the gig.
“You have to like all three facets of this job,” the 48-year-old married father said of police, fire and rescue. “Everybody loves firefighters, not everybody loves police.”
Officers work 24-hour shifts—which require eight hours of policing—and then are off work the next two days. That means a third of their year is spent on the job, which makes it easy to develop family-like bonds with fellow officers. They sleep, shower and cook at the department, just like a typical fire station.
Rottier and other officers say the arrangement—originally proposed as a cost-saving measure to increase efficiency—has several advantages. For starters, they said it allows police on the scene of a crash or disturbance to better assess how medical staff should proceed.
“You’re not waiting for the fire department to show up,” he said
Ashwaubenon officers on scene at 2012’s Cellcom Green Bay Marathon were able to treat exhausted runners when extreme heat and humidity led to the mid-race cancellation.
During fires, responding officers often take charge connecting water hoses to hydrants.
Rottier calls it a team atmosphere with incredible camaraderie.
Some fully-consolidated public safety departments like the one in Ashwaubenon have failed in other places, but officers said they believe their group is special because it began from the ground-up and didn’t involve merging existing agencies.
Rottier said it sometimes takes people a little time to get used to the concept of a police/firefighter/EMT. For example, it’s not uncommon for a patient to become alarmed when someone in a police uniform tries to stick them in the arm with a medical needle.
“People don’t understand the same person they’re mad at for writing them a speeding ticket, two hours later, can come to their house and pump on their husband’s chest and bring him back to life,” Rottier said.
The majority of the department’s calls are for police service, but some days can be total chaos. On a wall in the department’s briefing room hangs a plaque commemorating what officers called “The Day,” a surreal 24-hour span in October 2004 when officers working for the village of 17,000 responded to 74 calls for service, 14 rescue calls, a fatal crash and a duplex fire.
Oh yeah, it was also a Green Bay Packers home game.
“It was unbelievable,” Rottier remembers as one of 10 officers who worked that regular shift.
While he may not want “The Day” everyday, he can still appreciate those bizarre times because he loves that every call is different, and so is every person he encounters.
The hardest part of the job for Rottier is handling when bad things happen to kids.
“There are days you go home and thank God, and hope and pray that your family is never put in that situation,” he said.
He serves by example of what happens when you never give up on your dreams.
Following your passions doesn’t always transition into a career. For some of us, our gifts are unleashed when we volunteer or find a side hustle to help pay the bills. But for the luckiest of us, like Rottier, it will become our calling.
—firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pgcharlesdavis.