Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) After 22 years of service, Firefighter/Paramedic Dave Patton will retire this week from the Marshfield Fire & Rescue Department.
Born and raised in California, Patton worked for a private ambulance company before getting married and moving to Wisconsin in the ’90s.
He started at Tri-State Ambulance in La Crosse and was hired soon after in Kaukauna. Wanting to keep busy at a bigger department, Patton applied to Marshfield and was hired on Oct. 27, 1997.
During his career, Patton was active in fire education at local schools and donned a blue wig for his turn as Jokey the Clown, teaching thousands of young children how to call 911 and “Stop, Drop, and Roll.”
Reflecting on his career, Patton is satisfied with his time at the department and enjoys the camaraderie with his work “family.”
“When I come in walking in the back door, to this day, is the best part of my day,” he said, “because I walk upstairs, everyone’s laughing, and the first thing out of my mouth is ‘Hello, kids!’”
His signature greeting has caught on at the department. “They always try to do it like I do it, and I tell them no,” he laughed.
The firefighting profession has evolved much since he started, and Patton is impressed by the new firefighters, who are about the same age as his kids, who represent those changes.
“These guys coming out today run circles around me with their knowledge. That’s how much the industry has changed, which is great to see,” he said.
EMS has also experienced many changes, as medicine has evolved. “The ultimate winner in this is the patient,” he said. “The patient that we come into contact is more apt to survive than they were 25 years ago, with the medication and equipment. It’s just evolved to a wonderful place.”
New technology and safety measures means the profession is safer than ever, although there will always be hazards. “Now we’re equipped from the fire side for us to be as safe as we can, in the environment we’re going into,” said Patton.
Having run countless calls during his career, the ones he feels he makes the most difference are those which allow the opportunity to speak with the patient.
“My favorite call is picking up that little old man or lady from a fall. I may not do anything in the back of the ambulance but talk to them. That’s my favorite call,” he said. “They are full of knowledge and history.”
While there have been countless calls with positive endings, those which took a more tragic turn are the ones that stick vividly in memory, even decades later.
In 2002, Patton was dispatched for a call of three young Mennonite children who had crawled into and suffocated inside a cedar chest while playing at their Cental Wisconsin home. Patton intercepted one of the ambulances transporting two of the children, who were experiencing cardiac arrest. Tragically, none of the siblings survived.
“That was undoubtedly the worst call of my career and I remember that day like it was yesterday,” said Patton. “I’ve never in my entire career been that emotionally drained from one call.”
Patton understands how first responders can struggle under the weight of those tragic calls. Fortunately, he credits the support system at the fire department for being able to pull each other through.
“It’s like your family,” he said. “You know when something’s bothering somebody, and know when to talk or when they just need space.”
Though there were tough times, Patton will remember his time at the Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department fondly. For his last day on Thursday, he’ll be making a special meal for his fellow department members with a menu including steak, lobster, and shrimp.
“They’re going to eat good,” he said.