New bills would support Minnesota firefighters with cancer, heart disease

Firefighters across Minnesota are gathering support from some lawmakers wanting to help them battle a steady increase in illnesses.

Firefighters are seeing increased rates of cancer and heart disease related to on the job exposure to toxic chemicals. That’s why they are now teaming up with two state lawmakers to try and tackle the leading killers of firefighters.

“There is a downside to this rewarding career, and that is the mental health issues a lot of us face, the addiction issues that a lot of us face, the cancer and cardiac risks that a lot are facing,” said Minnesota Professional Firefighters President Chris Parsons.

“In those years, I’ve seen way too many of my colleagues, friends and my family suffer to cardiac disease, cancer and mental health trauma,” said Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards. “We need to stop that.”  

Currently, only seven percent of firefighters in Minnesota are full-time, but the new legislation at the Capitol called the Hometown Heroes Assistance Act would apply to all firefighters.

“It includes funding for statewide critical care policy for all Minnesota firefighters which would cover diagnosis of cancer, and cardiac issues,” said state Rep. Cheryl Youakim, (DFL-Hopkins). “It includes an employee assistance program targeting emotional trauma unique to the fire service. It provides ongoing annual awareness training for firefighters on cancer, emotional trauma and cardiac care as well as training for medical health professionals.”

The bill calls for a one-time support payment of $30,000 dollars to any firefighter diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.

The bills were recently introduced in the House and Senate, but neither have yet had a hearing.