Father and son fight fires and make ambulance runs

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Steve and Nate Dittbenner once  helped deliver a baby in the back of an ambulance when they were unable to get to the hospital in time.

It’s one of the memorable moments for the father and son, who are Elk River firefighters and EMTs with the Elk River Ambulance Service.

In the case of the baby delivery, they had responded to a call of a woman in labor and were trying to get to the hospital in Princeton when the baby wouldn’t wait. They only made it as far as Ranch Road and County Road 1 in Elk River, where the ambulance pulled to the side of the road and the baby was born. Mom and baby were then transported to the hospital and all was well.

Steve (left) and Nate Dittbenner both serve on the Elk River Fire Department and the Elk River Ambulance Service. Steve has been a firefighter since 1978 and ambulance coordinator since 1979. Nate joined in 1999.

“It was kind of cool,” Steve said.

Steve has been an Elk River firefighter since 1978 and ambulance coordinator since 1979. Nate joined the fire department and ambulance service in 1999.

The two also work together at Minnesota Fabrication and Machine in Elk River, where Steve is a co-owner and Nate is sales manager.

Steve got involved in the fire department when the company was located near the fire station on Jackson Avenue. Firefighter Chuck Oscarson worked nearby and Steve often talked to him after he got back from fire runs. One day Oscarson told him he should join the fire department.

Steve applied and talked to Fire Chief Lloyd Barthel, who asked him, ‘When can you start?’

“I told him Labor Day weekend — 1978 or 33 years ago this fall,” Steve said.

Steve grew up in Wayzata and never planned to become a firefighter. He thought he wanted to be a police officer but eventually decided to pursue another career.

When Steve joined the Elk River Fire Department he also became part of the ambulance service. He had an advanced first aid certificate from college and made his first ambulance call the day he joined the fire department.

For Nate, the life of a firefighter was familiar from the time he was a boy.

“I grew up my whole life going to fire (department) picnics and all that and being around the firefighters,” Nate said.

He said he likes the camaraderie and the excitement of being a firefighter.

Nate took the Firefighter I class on his own before applying to the Elk River Fire Department when Bruce West was chief. New recruits are required to take the Firefighter I class in their first year on the department.

Steve said he was “totally shocked” when Nate decided to join the department.

“I was glad but it surprised me,” Steve said.

The two respond to 12-15 fire calls and 10-20 ambulance calls a month.

What is it like working together?

Nate said they are used to working together every day at Minnesota Fabrication and Machine.

“We don’t pull any punches,” Steve added. “When things are wrong, we tell each other. We’re still able to go fishing on a weekend, so I guess it’s all working out.”


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