A Boreal Exclusive - Cook County Emergency Chaplains, the unspoken heroes in Cook CountyJul 14, 2021 10:51PM ● By Editor
When Hillary Freeman retired from the Minneapolis Police Department, she knew she still needed to give back. Hillary had worked for the MPD as a Crime Prevention Specialist for 14 years. Even in retirement, she wanted to continue supporting the department. She became involved as a chaplain in the Minneapolis Police Department Chaplain Program for several years before moving to Cook County 11 years ago.
What exactly does an EMS chaplain do? According to Hillary, “Chaplains and pastors are not the same thing. They have very different roles. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.” Chaplains must go through an intense 2 ½ day training through the Minnesota Emergency Services Chaplain Association. Their function is to be of service to the community, the officers and their families, as well as other emergency service personnel. A chaplain must have some background, such as spiritual director or pastor to take this training.”She went on to say that “We often get called when someone has died. The EMS responders may know this person, so it is our job to see how they were doing. We will make the call to the family.” In situations such as this, Hillary explained that the pastor’s role is to pray with the family and to talk about bible verses. The chaplain’s role is to be there for the deputy, the EMS crew, and the surviving family.
“We can talk about what they want to do - do they have a pastor, do they want the pastor involved.” Simply summarizing, “We are a presence with the family to support them”.
Approximately six years ago. Hillary and Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen began working together to develop a chaplain program right here in Cook County. Sheriff Pat wanted this program here and she had the background. Deputy Running is the local coordinator of the group from the Sheriff’s Department.
Before the pandemic and COVID restrictions were put in place, chaplains used to do ride-alongs with the Cook County deputies. After COVID restrictions were implemented, they started doing “talk-alongs” instead. Hillary stated that “being in law enforcement is so hard right now because people take the actions of some really bad officers and believe that all of them are like that. They have a very stressful job. We talk about how it is going, how their work has been, what they have encountered.”
She said that sometimes on ride alongs they get called into situations. “Once I was on a ride-along and we got called to a fire. I could not say “Excuse me, I am supposed to be back in half an hour” so you go along with them. I went along and it was useful because I was also able to support fire and EMS and anyone else and be a presence. I was able to talk to the owner of the structure so that the fire crew could do their job, asking what did you have in there, how long have been you been there, and process with the individual.” They have also worked with dispatchers and did “sit-alongs” where they would sit with dispatchers for part of their shift.
In the event of a community emergency, such as a huge fire or large disaster, chaplains would be present. They would deal with the community so that the first responders and everyone else could do their job. “Our training really helped prepare us for this”, said Hillary.
There are four active chaplains in Cook County at this time: Hillary Freeman, Pastor Kris Garey, Pastor Dave Harvey, and Barb Bottger, who lives up the Gunflint Trail. Hillary said that there are a couple more individuals who are interested and may attend the next training, which is held right here in Minnesota.
How do the chaplains debrief after taking care of everyone else? They have monthly meetings with chaplains with a deputy where they can debrief and talk about their experiences. They can go long stretches without callouts. Hillary explained that not everyone in Grand Marais belongs to a church. They also assist with tourists who have boating accidents, lost hikers who have died, and many other traumatic situations. The chaplains have a wide range to play a role and assist the deputies and others on the scenes as much as they possibly can.
Because they really do not have a set budget to work with, the chaplains applied for a grant through the North Shore Health Care Foundation. When the three local businesses burned in downtown Grand Marais last year, they used the grant funds to purchase sandwiches from Subway. They set up in the emergency command vehicle and distributed dinners to the crews fighting the fire. Hillary said, “It was a terribly windy day so the crews could not leave. We fed them so that they could keep going”.
She went on to explain that “Like life, you have joys and sorrows. Any time trauma happens to a person, whether it's an unexpected death or a missing person, we run into situations and are there for the trauma that the persons are experiencing.”
What motivates Hillary to keep going? “I do this because I have so much respect for law enforcement. They go places that you and I would never want to go. They do it daily.” She went on to praise our local deputies, saying that “Our officers up here have the gift of verbal communication to de-escalate situations. If there are only two officers on duty and one is up the trail and one in Grand Portage, they don’t always have the luxury of having a backup. These young men and women who work here really have good communication skills. I just really want to thank Sheriff Pat for having the foresight and the willingness to develop a chaplain’s program here. We presented four years ago at a conference at the Governor’s request because we are such a unique program. I just want to give a shout out for having a sheriff who is forward thinking and proactive. That is a really good way to build community relationships and take care of the deputies who work for him.”
Sheriff Pat Eliasen praised the efforts of the chaplains. According to Sheriff Pat, “We cannot be thankful enough for the service our Chaplains provide to the community, and to the emergency response staff. They volunteer their time to provide emotional care to anyone at any time, and they deliver at a highly professional level. This truly is one of the best programs that we can provide and we are extremely happy to do it.”