Brown Co. dispatcher retires early due to ‘COVID clarity’ call
Throughout 27 years of service, Tracy Ertl has heard a little bit of everything, but one call made her realize her mission has been served
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - COVID-19 has changed many aspects of life for all of us.
It's also causing a well-known Brown County 911 dispatcher to call it a career sooner than planned.
The pandemic pushed Tracy Ertl into early retirement from what she calls a mission, not a job.
"I've helped deliver babies over the phone. I've talked people out of taking their lives. I've listened while people took their lives," describes Ertl. "I love this community and there's a deep attachment. I've cradled it, literally, in my arms through my headset for the last 27 years." In that time, she's experienced life and death, heartache and triumph, with strangers.
One of her most memorable calls we first told you about in January, when a Green Bay woman called for help, saying she was being held hostage in the Dominican Republic.
Ertl helped her get safely to the US Embassy. As a dispatcher and supervisor, she estimates handling some 600,000 911 calls with ease.
Then came a call in April. "A fire call came in, and it triggered my PTSD for the first time during the day in 25 years. It was terrifying," says Ertl. It brought her back to the day Green Bay Firefighter Arnie Wolff died. Ertl was dispatching police that day. "My friend listened to his maydays, and if I close my eyes, I can still see her eyes, looking at me in disbelief," she recalls, her eyes shut. "For the first time in my 20-plus years, my hands began to shake."
Days after that fire call triggered flashbacks came the one that changed everything.
"The call was for police to escort that hearse, stop in front of the house, allow her to exit the home and say goodbye to the husband through the casket. And I cried," says Ertl. She knew right then her time serving the community was up.
"It was COVID clarity. It was the understanding that I'd already served my mission. I realized in that moment, that my cup was full," says Ertl.
To her family's surprise and happiness, she announced early retirement, grateful to know when her time serving the public was done. "I never had a day or a night in my career where I didn't know I helped somebody. That's priceless," she says, proudly. And at the same time, it's incredibly stressful, with a drop in the number of emergency calls, but she says the ones coming in are more serious, involving more overdoses and suicide attempts. It affirms how vital dispatchers are. "There are heroes sitting in that room, every day and every night," she says. "It's important to understand that we're human. We're just like you."
For one final time, she puts on the headset she calls her armor, to offer advice.
“It’s important we invest in our children. I’d go back and I’d look at the early history of our callers, and those wanted for crimes had criminal behavior and almost always there was child neglect, child abuse, something like that at the beginning of the story,” she says. Ertl is thankful to be part of a team keeping the community safe and healthy, so it’s only fitting, on her final shift, at a time when retirement parties just can’t happen, that nearly two dozen firefighters and police officers lined for a mini parade, just to say thank you. “They shocked me... absolutely shocked me,” says Ert. It was a fairy tale ending to a career that has used every part of me. God speed. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss taking your calls, but you’re in great hands,” she says, blowing a kiss. “And from my community-impaired community, Ertl out. Thank you.”
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