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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

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Hometown Heroes Assistance Program Supports Minnesota’s Firefighters

Tuesday, March 19, 2019



St. Paul, MN. Minnesota’s firefighters will receive vital supplemental state health assistance thanks to the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program, chief authored by Senator Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie) and Representative Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins). The bipartisan legislation, SF2264 and HF1782, addresses the alarmingly high incidence of cancer, cardiac issues and emotional trauma facing the state’s 22,000 firefighters.


“Minnesota’s firefighters are ready at any moment to answer any call, putting their lives on the line daily to serve our communities,” said Senator Cwodzinski. “They deserve our respect and gratitude, but they also deserve the support they need to deal with the dangers they face not just physically, but for their own mental health.”


In addition to the immediate risk that firefighting poses, many of these public servants also face chronic illnesses that can worsen throughout their career and even into retirement. In Minnesota last year there were two cardiac-related firefighter line-of-duty deaths, three firefighter suicides, and an undetermined number of cancer deaths.


"Our firefighters face unique challenges," said Representative Youakim. "They have higher incidences of cancer, cardiac issues and trauma. This bill would not only provide quality health care assistance but take a proactive approach with necessary awareness training."


The bill establishes one-time lump-sum “Critical Care” grants for all Minnesota firefighters diagnosed with cancer or cardiac issues, guaranteeing $30,000 per diagnosis. It also creates an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for all Minnesota firefighters facing emotional trauma issues unique to their occupation.


“Minnesota ranks 45th out of 50 in its investment in the fire service,” said George Esbensen, President of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE) and former Eden Prairie Fire Chief. “Every day that we fail to provide adequate training, prevention and education puts firefighters at greater and greater risk. We need to give our Hometown Heroes and their families the support and education they deserve.”


The grant will also be used for ongoing annual MnFIRE Awareness training for every Minnesota firefighter. Changing the current culture in the Minnesota Fire Service is integral to long-term reduction of the incidences of cancer, emotional trauma and cardiovascular disease. It will also provide annual MnFIRE Awareness Training for medical doctors and mental health professionals statewide.