State program supports firefighters facing cancer, cardiac issues, emotional trauma

A firefighter walks along a highway
Chanhassen, Minn., firefighter Doug Foote leaves Marietta, Minn., in September 2021 at the start of a 200-mile walk to raise awareness of high mortality rates among fellow firefighters.
Courtesy of MnFIRE 2021 file

Fighting fires is a tough and extremely dangerous job. Firefighters battle heat exhaustion, burns, physical and mental stress — and often come into contact with toxic hazards.

There are roughly 20,000 firefighters — mostly volunteers — in nearly 800 fire departments across Minnesota. Thanks to a new $4 million program, they now have a safety net for mental and physical health issues like cancer, cardiac issues and emotional trauma. The Hometown Heroes Assistance Program passed the state legislature in July 2021, and the program is now hitting the ground.

Wayne Kewitsch, executive director of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, joined host Cathy Wurzer with more. Kewitsch started his career in 1995 as an on-call firefighter with the St. Louis Park Fire Department, then joined the Richfield Fire Department, where he has been a lieutenant, assistant chief and fire chief.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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