Firefighters serve an extremely important role in our community. Whether they’re helping us in an emergency, or helping out at an event, local firefighters are always a fixture. And they are always ready for more training. On February 8, the Norwood Young America Fire Department received “MnFIRE Aware” training from the state to help the firefighters help themselves when they need it.

“It was a great initiative directed at the firefighters health and wellbeing,” said Steve Zumberg, fire chief of the NYA Fire Department.

The “MnFIRE Aware” training is being given to all 8000 fire departments in Minnesota, due to a $400,000 grant. The training teaches firefighters about how to be aware of some of the occupational risks, such as cancer, cardiac issues, and emotional trauma.

The training is designed to help the firefighters not only see symptoms of these in themselves, but also see them in their fellows.

“Firefighters tend to be bull-headed, believe it or not,” said Zumberg. “They want to make sure that if you feel different after a call, you should let someone know.”

And feeling different can be a big deal. Firefighters are prone to heart attacks due the high-stress nature of their work, and it’s one of the most common ways for a firefighter to pass away. As for the emotional trauma training, it’s important for peers and the firefighters themselves to recognize certain symptoms of things like depression, PTSD, and more. According to the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, four to six firefighters die by suicide per year, so it’s really important for firefighters to be aware of what their peers could be going through.

As for the cancer training, this is all about keeping information up to date.

“Fires have changed with just the manufacturing changes and byproducts,” said Zumberg. “Most everything in a house now has petroleum based products in them, so the smoke coming out of fires is much more dangerous than it used to be.”

Now, this change in materials isn’t noticed by the homeowner. However, when those materials are on fire, the smoke is full of carcinogens. That smoke, ash, and debris ends up on the gear of the firefighters, so it’s extremely important for them to know the best procedures to get rid of the toxic dirt. The big one is keeping the gear clean, and taking showers as quickly as possible after a fire to mitigate the risk as much as possible.

This push to keep things clean is part of the reason why newer stations are starting to get in-house showers, washers, and dryers. After all, bringing home contaminated clothing puts more people at risk than being able to clean it immediately. Same with exercise equipment being on site, since keeping the cardio-vascular system robust helps prevent cardiac issues in the future. The more the MN Firefighter Initiative learns about the risks, the more firefighters can lessen the risks in their lives.

In addition to conducting MnFIRE Aware 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 MNFireInitiative.com.

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