Former fire chief's new calling helping firefighters across Minnesota

Eric Chaloux
Updated: February 01, 2021 07:50 AM
Created: January 31, 2021 11:27 AM

Former Richfield Fire Chief Wayne Kewitsch helped his community for more than 20 years, but now he has a new role in helping firefighters across the state of Minnesota.

Kewitsch is now executive director of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, or MnFire

"The last seven months, three cardiac arrests, that's what ended my career. I don't want that to happen to any other firefighters," Kewitsch said.

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MnFire is an advocacy group that helps firefighters and EMS staff with training around cardiovascular disease, emotional trauma and cancer in the fire service.

The organization said it's working to provide all of Minnesota's 20,000 firefighters with free health and wellness training fueled by a recent $400,000 grant from the Fire Service Advisory Committee.

Cardiovascular disease is the top killer of firefighters nationwide and is by far the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service, according to MnFire's website.

"The vast majority of the firefighters in the state are paid on-call, volunteer firefighters most of them don't have access to an employee assistance program," Kewitsch said about another effort they are working on to help firefighters. "That gives them help when they are facing crisis, we want to make sure we take care of our firefighters while they take care of the community."

The former Richfield fire chief is trying to help take care of more than just his crew at the state but members of the fire service across the state as they deal with the pandemic.

"It's a very significant added stress to the response and the responders," Kewitsch said.

MnFire has a 24-hour confidential peer support hotline for firefighters in crisis: 888-784-6634.

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