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‘We need to have their backs’ – more help for firefighters with cancer, heart disease under Hometown Heroes program

“Firefighters face cancer, cardiac issues, and mental health challenges at higher rates than the rest of the population just for doing their jobs,” says Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins).

“They perform these jobs without hesitation, and we need to have their backs.”

Youakim sponsors HF377, which would create a Hometown Heroes Assistance Program to provide financial assistance to firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over, as amended, Friday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF621, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill would appropriate money to the Department of Public Safety to manage a fund to:

  • provide a one-time monetary payment to firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease;
  • develop a trauma counseling program for firefighters; and
  • develop training and educational materials to help firefighters reduce the inherent health risks associated with their profession.

“This is an epidemic in our firefighting community, one that our cities, towns, and townships can’t handle on their own,” Youakim said. “As a state, we are morally obligated to step up and help.”

The bill would entitle firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease to receive a one-time payment of up to $30,000.

George Esbensen, Eden Prairie fire chief and president of Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, said that the bill would bring desperately needed resources to cancer, cardiac, and emotional trauma, “the three big killers of active firefighters.”

“Firefighters tend to get cancers and cardiac issues at much younger ages than the general population and suffer fatalities at two-and-a-half to six times those of the general population,” he said.

A yet-to-be determined General Fund appropriation would be sought to fund the program. The Department of Public Safety could also accept funds from private sources for the program.

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