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From copper to chopper: Pierce County investigator changes careers

ELLSWORTH -- When Bob Rhiel first started with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department in 1984, he received advice he carries with him to this day.

"Terry DuBois said that, even though you have a gun and carry a badge, you get up the same way everyone does and you put your pants on the same way everyone does," he said.

"His message was that you're no different than anyone else, as we all have our bad days, so don't you forget it."

Riehl ended his 24-year career with the sheriff's department on Friday after accepting a job as a flight supervisor for LifeLink III out of Rice Lake.

"It was time for a change," Rhiel said.

He was previously a LifeLink paramedic at the New Richmond location before being promoted.

"I'm lucky I got the position," he said.

The Minneapolis-based firm provides ground and air medical transportation for patients within a 150-mile radius of the Twin Cities.

"It's fast transportation with highly skilled people," Rhiel said.

The Plum City native got interested in emergency medicine while growing up. He went along with his father, Bob, on ambulance rides. His father had flown in World War II as a corpsman, and because Plum City didn't have an ambulance service back then, he was usually called upon.

Rhiel joined the Plum City-Maiden Rock-Stockholm ambulance service in 1983 and became a member of the Ellsworth Ambulance Service in 1987 when he moved there.

The LifeLink interest started out as a "getaway" from the sheriff's department, Rhiel said.

Since 1991, he has worked in investigations, spending most of his time in the drug unit.

"A lot of decent people were getting arrested for being stupid," Rhiel said of methamphetamine use.

"Now the labs are down, but the use and the crime of it hasn't changed at all. A lot of people have lost their jobs to methamphetamine."

The creation of Pierce County's drug court has given some drug users a second chance, Rhiel said. "It holds the users accountable and it gets them the help they need and couldn't afford."

And the results have worked.

Rhiel said he was outside the courthouse one day last fall when a man walked up and thanked him, saying what he did was the best thing that ever happened to him. What Rhiel did was arrest him four years ago on drug charges. The man went through treatment and is now clean, Rhiel said.

"I've made some friends that have been former addicts," he said.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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