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Video: Firefighters Come First at MN State Chief's Association Conference

Oct 20, 2019 06:53AM ● By Editor

By Emily Ness of WDIO-TV - October 20, 2019

Firefighters work relentlessly to protect the communities that they serve—walking through fire itself—with bravery, strength and endurance to save perfect strangers. Now, the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative is working to protect them.

"We're all about ending the chaos for the firefighters so whether you're a career firefighter or a non-career fire fighter, there are some deep impacts of cancer, emotional trauma and cardiac issues that impact all fire fighter at rates from 2-6 times what the general population experiences and what's predictable and measureable is addressable,” George Espensen, Executive Director of Minnesota Firefighter Initiative said.

On a mission to equip firefighters with the resources they need to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, the Minnesota firefighter initiative launched a statewide advocacy campaign centered around educational opportunities for firefighters, their families and the communities that they serve.

Firefighters experience scenarios that most of us are fortunate to never go through at a rate that most of us can never imagine The Minnesota Firefighter Initiative says it is time we take care of them too

Photo:  WDIO-TV

"Every square foot of Minnesota is all covered by some group of firefighters who are dedicated to selfless service and the issue that we need to address is that when they need help, someone needs to step up and help them,” Espensen said.

In addition to providing educational opportunities through conferences and classes, the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative has proposed the 'Hometown Heroes Assistance Program.' The program intends to allocate more state funds to firefighters' health and well-being.

"Minnesota ranks 21st in the nation in population, we rank 44th in the nation in our investment in the fire service,” Espensen said. “The 44th ranking in the nation in our funding level to support firefighters is shameful and one of the ways we can address it is to begin investing in firefighter well-being.”

Given the high death and suicide rates of fire fighters, some believe additional funding for these programs is necessary.

"We've done a lot of training here locally with MNFire and with other peer support resources to have our firefighters know that if they need help, they know where to get it and they're not ashamed to ask for it,” Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said. “Some of it is also just dealing with the runs we go on—the stresses that we have there, even saving lives or having fatalities or unfortunate turn outs to some of our calls—that really builds up over the years and can be stressful and hard for everyone.”

This training and debriefing hits especially close to home, following the Duluth synagogue fire.

"We did actually have a close call there. We're still actually working through some of the footage that we had and we did have an injured fire fighter,” Krizaj said.

Programs like the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative help continue the care of all firefighters, as well as, those in their circle.

“Part of our initiative too is for families support. It’s not just firefighters, it’s for spouses, it’s for children perhaps, whoever needs to be involved with it,” Krizaj said.

Both Espensen and Krizaj emphasized that resources are readily available for fire fighters and their families who may need them. One of these is a hotline that can be called 24/7 for anyone experiencing emotional trauma or thoughts of harming themselves. That number is 888-784-6634. Other resources for cardiovascular disease or cancer can be found on the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative’s website.That link is here.

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