HIBBING — For the past several years Chaplain Steve Breitbarth has been a part of the Patriot Day memorial service at the Hibbing Fire Hall, and he plans to participate again today.
Tony Sikich, a Battalion Chief with the Hibbing Fire Department, said recently that the HFD has held such a ceremony since 2002 — the one-year anniversary of 9/11 — mainly attended by firefighters and law enforcement.
The Patriot Day ceremony planned for today is again a small, intimate memorial where firefighters, law enforcement, and elected city officials gather to remember firefighters, police officers, and service members who have died in the line of duty.
Sikich provided some insight on the ceremony, based on his previous experiences.
“It feels very solemn, and it’s nice to be able to remember those who have given their lives and paved the way for the rest of us,” said Sikich, who has participated in the ceremony every year since he started with the department in 2016.
For Breitbarth, an emergency services chaplain for a number of agencies in St. Louis County, the yearly ceremony in Hibbing provides a time to reflect on what he defines as “tremendous commitment and sacrifice of time and energy that the people who serve in emergency services do to keep our community safe.”
“I usually give an invocation, say a few words, and do the benediction,” he humbly said of his contribution to the touching memorial service.
He also explained what his role is.
“An emergency service chaplain is trained to not only provide emotional and spiritual support to the many victims of a critical incident, but first and foremost, to give support to the emergency services departments,” Breitbarth explained. “For me what is first and foremost is the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those who are serving in emergency services. Emergency Services includes not only all forms of Law Enforcement, Fire Fighters, Emergency Medical and also Doctors and Nurses.”
In a recent email, he added: “Too often in our daily lives we take for granted the dedication of those — the many who serve in emergency services until we have a personal need for them and their services. We fail to realize the continuous ongoing training that people in emergency services do on a very regular basis to keep them at their best as they serve our needs.”
Breitbarth, a retired pastor with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, among other things, said the events of 9/11 hit home for local firefighters.
“Definitely with the fire departments it’s kind of a brotherhood, so they were all affected in many ways — probably anxiety and the knowledge of what the firefighters out in New York were experiencing as well as some as sadness and grief over the loss of several firefighters as well,” he said.
Breitbarth also shared his recollection on how travel had become more difficult in the months after 9/11.
In January 2002, just months after 9/11, he flew to San Diego, Calif., to meet with youth workers, and found travel became very difficult due to extra security measures in place aimed at preventing another attack.
“The National Guard was walking around with their weapons at the airport,” Breitbarth said, recalling what he experienced at the terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
While in San Diego, he and his group toured an aircraft carrier, and were escorted on the bus by armed service personnel.
“So, things were much different, and rightly so, for safety and security following 9/11,” Breitbarth said.
He also talked about the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which came about after 9/11.
NIMS guides all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond and to recover from incidents, according to information found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Breitbarth is certified in training for disaster response (NIMS 700, 100, 200, 300 and 400).
Breitbarth said a majority of the training he has undergone since 9/11 has helped him prepare to be a better support resource for all emergency services, adding that the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the emergency personnel is extremely important to him.
“The healthier they are emotionally and spiritually they will be able to provide better service to the community when needed,” he said.
A sworn St. Louis County law enforcement chaplain, Breitbarth serves the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department, and the emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) in Hibbing and Chisholm, and he also volunteers as a hospital chaplain at Range Regional Medical Center in Hibbing.
As the regional director for the International Conference of Police Chaplains, he works with several hundred Chaplains in a five state area, Minn., S.D., N.D., Neb. and Iowa, and is certified to provide training to other chaplains in a dozen different, necessary areas.
A Minnesota licensed marriage and family therapist with more than 32 years of experience, Breitbarth continues to work at the Fairview Mesaba Clinic for one day a week, and he also takes a few private referrals as time allows.
For more than 35 years he presented the sexual assault and bullying program for kindergarten to 12th grade students in the Chisholm School District, and also trained peer helpers in the district for more than 20 years.
In 2015 he retired from his position as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Chisholm, where he served for 37 years (two years as a vicar and 35 as a full-time pastor), and in that capacity also filled in as pastor at Grace Lutheran in Hibbing.