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The Minnesota Hometown Heroes Assistance Program – 405



In this interview, Dr. Gasaway talks with George Esbensen, President of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE) about the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program.


During his 32 years in the fire service, George Esbensen served in many roles, from firefighter to chief. Today, he volunteers as Board President of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE), an advocacy nonprofit he co-founded in 2016 dedicated to providing Minnesota’s firefighters with the tools they need to prioritize and protect their health. Chief Esbensen has been an advocate for firefighter wellness for his entire career, leading efforts to ban cancer-causing flame retardants, establish the Hometown Heroes Survivor Act, and, in 2021, pass the most comprehensive firefighter well-being legislation in the nation.

Hometown Heroes Assistance Program

The summer of 2023 marked the two-year anniversary of the Minnesota legislature’s passing of the Hometown Heroes Act. This win for the state’s fire service has since ensured that every Minnesota firefighter has access to a MnFIRE Assistance Program with expanded emotional trauma resources, including free visits to mental health professionals and ongoing peer support, an up-to-$20,000 critical illness policy that they’re automatically enrolled in, and ongoing health and wellness training, all at no cost to them or their department.

Firefighters across the country – and across Minnesota – are affected by serious health concerns including cardiac disease, emotional trauma and cancer at rates nearly twice as high as the general public. But since the legislation went into effect, the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program (HHAP), administered by the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE), has changed thousands of lives through an array of confidential resources available to all active volunteer, paid-on-call, part-time and full-time Minnesota firefighters. In just over two years, the program has provided:

  • Nearly 1,000 firefighter-focused mental health providers across the state to offer up to five no-cost counseling sessions per issue per year to firefighters and their families. To date the MnFIRE Assistance Program has facilitated nearly 1,600 visits with mental health providers.
  • An expanded network of trained MnFIRE peer supporters, which has responded to more than 675 calls.
  • 149 paid Critical Illness claims, totaling $1.9 million. Illnesses have included full-benefit cancer, COVID-19, post-traumatic stress disorder, skin cancer, other cancer, ALS, heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, heart disease, kidney failure, coronary artery disease needing surgery and more.
  • 1,118 MnFIRE trainings to 17,524 firefighters about the increased occupational health risks they face and how to cultivate a healthy lifestyle.

About the Host


Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

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Episode length: 54 minutes


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