IRON RANGE — A law enforcement chaplain is continuing to do his part to provide services to first responders in the area.

“A chaplain is to provide emotional and spiritual support to law enforcement and emergency services as well as to the victims; however, given the nature of this virus, we’re limited on what we can do for those who actually have the coronavirus,” Rev. Steve Breitbarth said in a phone interview with the Tribune Press on Friday.

Given the nature of their jobs, emergency personnel can’t always avoid face-to-face interaction with the public and practice social distancing.

“They can’t do their job and maintain five to six feet from everyone, which creates a great deal of stress and concerns for them and their family,” Breitbarth said.

The next day, St. Louis County announced its first presumptive case of coronavirus.

Breitbarth is the regional director of the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is also the emergency services chaplain for the Chisholm Police Department, Chisholm Fire Department, Chisholm Ambulance, Hibbing Police Department, Hibbing Fire Department and St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.

For the time being, Breitbarth said he is providing emotional and spiritual support to emergency personnel through phone calls or via text messages. That differs from the face-to-face interaction he and the people he serves are accustomed to.

Chisholm Fire Chief Bob Brown said Breitbarth regularly attended meetings and training sessions at his department along with responding to incidents to help with displaced families and help his department with debriefing.

“He’s always there for any personal issues our families are faced with,” Brown said.

The lines of communication will remain open.

“After everything subsides, I anticipate we’ll be spending more time and energy providing that support to try to get things back to normal,” Breitbarth said.

Keeping focus on the positives.

Breitbarth, a Minnesota-licensed marriage and family therapist, previously served as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Chisholm for nearly 40 years. He also served as the pastor at Grace Lutheran in Hibbing for a portion of that time. He’s also an emergency services chaplain with the Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches.

Drawing from the many crisis training seminars he’s attended over the years, Breitbarth offered some advice on keeping focus on the positive.

“The anxiety is so high because there’s unknowns of the coronavirus,” said Breitbarth. “We lose sight that the majority of us have our health and we have our families.”

While we may be limited on things we normally were able to do, it’s potentially forcing people to do more things with their families, and communicating better within their family units.

“It’s so easy to focus on the threat of the coronavirus that is very real, but look at the blessings we have,” he said.

In the end, there may be some lessons that we all learn from the current crisis.

“Some medical personnel have said one of the blessings is teaching people the importance of washing their hands, but in the long run it may prevent people from catching viruses for years to come,” Brietbarth said.

Talking to kids about coronavirus

Breitbarth said it begins with the adult being role models, because children can sense when a parent, or other adults they are close with are uneasy.

“We as adults need to look at what we can do to lower our anxiety,” Breitbarth said.

One thing he suggests is for adults to have confidence in what the Centers for Disease Control is telling us about how they are controlling the crisis, and what they’re learning from other countries.

Young kids especially can develop a sense of fear of being abandoned. To help ease that fear, Breitbarth said it’s important for adults to step up and remind children that they’re there for them and that they will protect them.

“Just that assurance — sometimes words as well as actions are important,” he said.


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