Updated: July 16, 2021 06:17 PM
Created: July 16, 2021 05:48 PM
(ABC 6 News) - Roughly 93 percent of Minnesota's firefighters are volunteers.
The people first on the scene at medical emergencies, fires, and other local disasters are often not paid for risking their lives.
"Volunteer firefighters go through a lot of the same things that full-time firefighters do," Mandee Marx, a full-time Rochester firefighter, said.
They also don't have the same medical insurance or benefits as full-time firefighters. That's why the Minnesota legislature passed the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program. They worked together with MN Fire and other state fire organizations to get all firefighters - volunteer or full time - more access to health resources.
"Our job is to go out and help people, and now it's kind of the state paying us back and giving us the option that they can help us now. And I think that's very important," Marx said.
MN Fire, an advocacy organization for firefighters, said 12 percent of firefighters will develop cardiovascular issues at some point in their lives. This is why the program offers firefighters with cancer or cardiovascular issues 20,000 dollars to help with medical expenses.
"I'll tell you what...I don't think there's a firefighter anywhere that doesn't know one of their colleagues that has had a heart problem or a cancer issue," Jeff Howe, a Minnesota senator, an ex-firefighter said.
Firefighters will also get free counseling and educational sessions on how to stay healthy on the job. Because it isn't just about physical health, but mental health as well. MN Fire says first responders contemplate suicide up to 10 times more than the average person.
"We can come back from any type of incident or bad call, and we come back to the station, and we have each other to talk to," Marx said.
At the end of their shift, volunteer firefighters go home exhausted. Oftentimes to a family that depends on them to be strong.. Meanwhile the state wants to make sure they go home healthy as well.
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