The Elk River Fire Academy joined a growing list of firefighters becoming “MnFIRE Aware” of their occupational health risks during training on Jan. 6.

Fifteen recruits participated in the training, including new members from the Elk River Fire Department as well as Albertville, Baldwin, and Zimmerman fire departments.

The training, taught by firefighters and other health experts, gave firefighters tips on how to protect themselves from the three problems most commonly experienced by those in the fire service — cardiac, emotional trauma and cancer.

The training class was hosted by the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE), the statewide advocacy organization that equips firefighters and the people who care about them with resources to address the growing health crisis in the Minnesota fire service. MnFIRE recently received a $400,000 grant from the Fire Service Advisory Committee to train all Minnesota firefighters to become “MnFIRE Aware” of their occupational health risks by June 30. More than 8,000 firefighters have already received the training statewide.

“There’s a health crisis in the Minnesota fire service and it’s more important than ever that firefighters across the state are aware of their heightened risk for cardiac, emotional trauma and cancer issues,” said George Esbensen, MnFIRE president.

More and more Minnesota firefighters are losing their lives due to occupational health issues. In addition to cancer and cardiac-related deaths, four to six active Minnesota firefighters die from suicide each year, according to MnFIRE.

In addition to conducting trainings both in person and online at no cost to departments, MnFIRE offers a confidential, toll-free helpline (888-784-6634) for firefighters in crisis. The nonprofit is also spearheading a legislative initiative to improve access to care for firefighters in need of treatment for cancer, cardiac and emotional trauma issues — the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program, which is planned to be introduced during the 2021 legislative session. Learn more at

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