Since its inception in 2016, the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE) has been dedicated to providing Minnesota’s firefighters with the resources they need to prioritize and protect their health. The statewide advocacy organization focuses on the three health problems most commonly experienced by those in the fire service: cardiovascular disease, emotional trauma and cancer.
MnFIRE has been a prominent advocate for increasing state funding for firefighter health, and in 2021, orchestrated the passage of the most comprehensive firefighter well-being legislation in the nation: The Hometown Heroes Assistance Program. This includes a MnFIRE Assistance Program with expanded emotional trauma resources, an up-to-$20,000 critical illness policy, and ongoing health and wellness training – all provided to Minnesota firefighters for free.
MnFIRE has taken an innovative, inclusive and tenacious approach to unify and spark discussions, along with driving action among Minnesota firefighters, their families, their communities and state policymakers regarding firefighter health.
MnFIRE educates firefighters about their higher risks for cardiac issues, emotional trauma and cancer, and educates them about preventative measures and resources to ensure long, productive careers and lives. These in-person and online trainings are led by health experts and fellow firefighters, and thanks to the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program, are available to every Minnesota fire department for free.
Minnesota firefighters and their families can also call our 24-hour hotline for confidential support, guidance and information about health resources and benefits: 888-784-6634.
This is all made possible through collaboration with the Minnesota Professional Firefighters (MPFF), Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association (MSFCA), the Minnesota State Fire Department Association (MSFSA), Northland F.O.O.L.S, Securian Financial, Optum and Blue Peak Consulting, as well as our generous donors and volunteers.
The Minnesota Firefighter Initiative is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit recognized by the IRS. Tax/EIN number: 38-4049248
Wayne Kewitsch is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative. He began his fire service career as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1995 with the St. Louis Park Fire Department and has served as a firefighter, Lieutenant, Assistant Chief and Fire Chief for the Richfield Fire Department. Wayne is passionate about firefighter health and wellness along with how resources can be best utilized to provide excellent service to the public. He is a member of multiple fire service organizations and currently holds leadership positions with the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, the Minnesota Type III All Hazards Incident Management Team and is a former board member for MN Task Force 1.
DeeDee Jankovich serves as the Director of Program Delivery for MnFIRE and assists with all aspects of training, including scheduling, data management and grant administration. She has also been the Executive Director of the Minnesota State Fire Department Association (MSFDA) since 2011. Having been in a fire service family for almost 20 years, DeeDee has a firsthand understanding of the trials and tribulations that come with being a firefighter spouse.
George Esbensen began his career as a volunteer firefighter in 1986 with the Eden Prairie Fire Department. He has held the positions of firefighter, Squad Lieutenant, and Assistant Chief of Operations, being named the city’s first full-time Fire Chief /Director of Emergency Preparedness in September 2002. He has held numerous local, state, and regional leadership roles in the fire service. Chief Esbensen has also had a successful career in the private sector as an entrepreneur involved in successful initial public offerings and expanding the sales and profitability of other organizations. He retired from the fire service in 2018 and currently is an Outreach Liaison with Hennepin Healthcare for their Trauma Services.
John Wolff started his fire service career in 1986 with the city of Chanhassen Fire Department, serving nine years as Fire Chief. Since 2014, he has served as the Deputy Fire Chief for the city of St. Louis Park. Chief Wolff is a MnFIRE founder and serves on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. Until the recent addition of Wayne Kewitsch as MnFIRE’s Executive Director, John oversaw MnFIRE support operations and education program management.
Mike Dobesh has been in the fire service since 1996, currently serving as the Fire Chief for the Richfield Fire Department. He has been a Chief Officer since 2004. As an active member of multiple other committees and work groups, Mike is passionate about firefighter health, safety, enhancing training, and expanding leadership within the fire service and all of its strategic partners. Mike currently serves on the Minnesota Type III Incident Management team, was Past-President of the Hennepin Fire Chiefs Association and is a co-founder of MnFIRE.
Ken Bence has devoted his life to public health, public safety, and public service. Professionally, he has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare sector, working with technology, managed care and advocacy organizations to improve people’s health and address disparities. He has also spent over 20 years in the paid-on-call fire service, and is currently a Battalion Chief with the Golden Valley Fire Department. Over the course of his career, he has served on numerous commissions, task forces and nonprofit boards, including the American Lung Association of Minnesota, the Minnesota Public Health Association, and the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative.
Amber Lage is the Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services for the Minneapolis Fire Department, where she has proudly served for over twenty-two years. Throughout her career, she has held the ranks of firefighter, fire motor operator, captain, staff captain and deputy chief. She is a current board member for the Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board where she represents professional firefighters. Though Amber’s specialty is in EMS, she has a genuine dedication in keeping firefighters safe and healthy.
Ed Hoffman currently serves as Fire Chief for the Owatonna Fire Department, and is also the city’s emergency manager and safety coordinator. He has over 33 years of experience as a volunteer and paid-on-call firefighter. He has served on the MSFDA board since 2007. Previously, he served for five years as the Public Safety Commander for the City of Mankato, heading up all training for the Department of Public Safety Fire Service, including technical rescue, HAZMAT and fire. Prior to his work in the fire service, Ed worked in IT for 25 years. Ed has been a MnFIRE instructor since 2019.
Scott Vadnais has been in the fire service for 32 years. He has been with the Edina Fire Department since 1997 and is currently a Lieutenant on the C-shift. He spent 12 years at the White Bear Lake Fire Department where he served as a paid-on-call paramedic/lieutenant. Scott has been the union President of Edina Local 1275 since 2008 and was recently elected President of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters, representing over 2,000 full-time firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers throughout the state. Scott’s a founding member of Minnesota Task Force 1, the state structural collapse rescue team. He also serves as a service representative for the International Association of Fire Fighters.
MnFIRE filed Articles of Incorporation with the state of Minnesota on September 27, 2017. In our first year revenues were less than $50,000 and therefore a 990N was filed. The 990N does not produce a tax report that shows revenues, expenses, assets, etc. Therefore we are providing a copy of the unaudited balance sheet and P&L for 2017. 990s are provided for subsequent years and will be posted by June of the following for each year the document is available. If you have any questions about MnFIRE financials, please contact our executive director or a member of the board.
The Board of Directors of the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative changed the year-end to June 30 to better align its fiscal year with its operating activities. This change is effective June 30, 2021.