Pastor David Szeto

MERRILL — St. John Lutheran Church Pastor David Szeto will serve as the first ever fire chaplain in the Merrill Fire Department’s 130-year history, the fire department announced this week.

In this volunteer role, Szeto will provide mental, psychological and spiritual support to emergency responders. He also will assist in the community on potential emergency-related calls, death notifications and immediate grief counseling.

“While the position is voluntary and thankless, we know that Chaplain Szeto will play an important role in the success of our department and the overall well-being of the Merrill community,” said Chief Josh Klug in a news release. “If Chaplain Szeto is needed, the fire department can send him an immediate request to join them on scene.”

Today, more than ever, first responders are burdened with post-traumatic stress. Many times it is not a single event that triggers this disorder, but a cumulative effect after decades of service. For that reason, fire departments today are promoting more than just physical health for their members. They also promote mental health.

“I have always said as fire chief, it is my job to return our members back to their families at the end of their shift and the end of their career in one piece/peace,” Klug said.

Szeto has been in the ministry for 13 years. He attended Concordia Seminary at St. Louis, Missouri, and first served at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Hicksville, New York. He and his family moved to Merrill in 2009 when he was called to St. John. They left in 2013, only to return again in 2015 to serve as the lead pastor at St. John Lutheran Church.

“I am honored and humbled to serve the Lord and members of the Merrill Fire Department as their chaplain,” Szeto said in the release.