Minnesota firefighters carry a heavy mental health burden, and now they’re asking the state for help

The bill to give firefights better access to mental health services has been introduced in the House.

Susie Jones
March 19, 2019 - 2:53 pm

A stock image of a fire truck.

When the alarm sounds in a fire station in Minnesota, firefighters are trained to take action, even if it means risking their own lives. But when the flames are out, firefighters often suffer injuries you can't see. 

Dennis Edwards has been a firefighter for 28 years, and is now the fire chief in Duluth. 

"In those years, I've seen too many of my friends, my colleagues, and my family suffer with cardiac disease, cancer and mental trauma," he said. 

Firefighters are now seeking state help to address the tool of their work by asking lawmakers to pass the "Hometown Hero Assistance Program," bill.

"If you call a team of firefighters will come and deliver so what we need is elected officials to deliver to firefighters. We need help," Edwards said. 

At a press conference Tuesday, firefighters spoke about the job, and the unique challenges they face. 

"The mental health issues, the addiction issues, the health issues," said Chris Parsons, a captain in the St Paul Fire department. "We are stepping forward as fire service leaders to take care of our problem." 

The bill would create a state-wide critical care policy to help pay expenses that are not covered by insurance, and it would provide better access to mental health services,

RELATEDSuicide rate soars nearly 41% in Minnesota.

DFL State Senator Steve Cwodzinski is author of the bill in the Senate.  Of firefighters he said: “They deserve our respect, but they also deserve the support they need to deal with the dangers of the job. They respond when we call, now we need to respond when they call.”
 
The bill has been introduced in the House. Cwodzinski said it has bi-partisan support, but there were no Republicans at the press conference.

Minnesota ranks 45th in the nation in per-capita fire service spending, despite being the 21st most populous state and 12th largest in area, according to the Minnesota Firefighters Initiative.
 
"Every firefighters in the state would have access to counseling services" said George Esbensen, with the Minnesota Firefighters Initiative. "And for anyone who needs more than five appointments, there will be a fund to help them get what they need."