In 2016, I co-founded the nonprofit Minnesota Firefighter Initiative after seeing too many firefighters confront cardiac, emotional trauma and cancer diagnoses during my time as Eden Prairie Fire Chief. The goal was to help firefighters identify their elevated risks for cardiac, emotional trauma and cancer health issues and to be a resource for firefighter wellness. It’s a mission I believed in then, and one I still volunteer my time for now because we’re seeing so many lives changed.
Last year, all that work was translated into the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program, the most comprehensive firefighter well-being legislation in the nation. The bill was co-authored by our own Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, and supported by Eden Prairie Reps. Kotyza-Witthuhn and Pryor. The program dedicates $4 million per year to ensure that every Minnesota firefighter has access to the education, prevention and care needed to handle a cardiac, emotional trauma or cancer diagnosis.
I’m so grateful that thanks to the hard work by Sen. Cwodzinski, as well as other chief bill authors Rep. Cheryl Youakim and Sen. Jeff Howe, our firefighters no longer have to go up against these health issues alone. We’re already seeing firefighters take advantage of this program. They are also benefiting from proactive trainings that make them aware of their risks and ways to mitigate them.
The Hometown Heroes Assistance Program is already included in the state’s 2023 base budget, and I urge legislators to ensure it remains that way. Let’s ensure these life-saving resources stay available to our hometown heroes when they need them.
George Esbensen, Eden Prairie
(The writer served as Eden Prairie Fire Chief from 2002 to 2018; and is President of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative)
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