Hometown Heroes Assistance Program sees success at helping firefighters with medical, mental health needs

Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 10:48 AM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Eight months after it passed, a Minnesota law has allowed hundreds of firefighters to access more mental health and medical resources.

The Hometown Heroes Assistance Program (HHAP) will dedicate $4 million over the next two years to help firefighters get more access to medical and mental health services. It allows up to $20,000 to go towards critical care treatment related to cancer, cardiac or other severe illnesses. It provides extra training to firefighters when it comes to taking care of their health.

The law also helped to create MnFIRE Assistance Program (MAP). It provides a 24/7 helpline that provides confidential support and information on available mental health resources.

Additionally, firefighters and their family members can access up to five counseling visits a year, with other support available if needed. MnFIRE also has a team of trained peer supporters who can help firefighters navigate different situations.

MnFIRE president George Esbensen said on average, in Minnesota, four to six firefighters die by suicide every year, and many more from cancer and cardiac related illnesses.

“One of the things we need to work on as a whole among firefighters is asking for help,” Esbensen said. “A lot of these issues end up going unchecked. This is something that needs to be addressed because it’s literally killing one of society’s most available resources, the men and women who step up to serve their communities big and small.”

Esbensen said so far, about $400,000 has been used to help with medical care and hundreds of fire fighters have accessed mental health resources.

He said emotional health, cardiac health and cancer prevention are connected and critical to a firefighter’s wellbeing.

“People ask me how we will measure our success,” he said. “I tell them when the levels of cancer and other health issues among firefighters get down or below those levels of the general public, then I will know we accomplished our mission.”

He said the best way the public can support firefighters is to encourage them to seek help if they need it, and to encourage lawmakers to continue to support the law so resources will be available for years to come.

To learn more about MnFIRE, visit its website here.

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