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What’s Brewing? with Wayne Kewitsch of MnFIRE

Since it first launched in 2016, Bell­mont Part­ners has been part­ner­ing with the Min­neso­ta Fire­fight­er Ini­tia­tive (MnFIRE) to pro­vide Minnesota’s fire­fight­ers the tools they need to pri­or­i­tize and pro­tect their health, and we couldn’t be more grate­ful for this ongo­ing, inspir­ing work that’s lit­er­al­ly sav­ing lives.

As for­mer Rich­field fire chief, Wayne Kewitsch has brought 24 years of expe­ri­ence in Minnesota’s fire ser­vice – and har­row­ing, first-hand under­stand­ing of the dan­gers fire­fight­ers face – to his new role help­ing fire­fight­ers across the state as MnFIRE’s first exec­u­tive direc­tor. Since the spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion has final­ly come to a close, we sat down with Wayne to chat about the recent pas­sage of the Home­town Heroes Assis­tance Pro­gram bill, as well as what he’s been up to as leader of MnFIRE.

What inspired you to join MnFIRE and what keeps you going?

As a fire chief, I was always pas­sion­ate about mak­ing sure my fire­fight­ers had the best access to edu­ca­tion, train­ing and equip­ment to keep them healthy. Healthy fire­fight­ers are more effec­tive on emer­gency scenes, they’re less prone to injury and they expe­ri­ence a bet­ter over­all qual­i­ty of life. Our youngest son is now a fire­fight­er. Doing every­thing I can to mit­i­gate the haz­ards that he and his fel­low fire­fight­ers expe­ri­ence keeps me going.

MnFIRE has been work­ing tire­less­ly to pass the Home­town Heroes Assis­tance Pro­gram for sev­er­al years now. Can you tell us about the mon­u­men­tal leg­is­la­tion that just passed and how it will impact the state’s fire ser­vice for years to come?

The Home­town Heroes Assis­tance Pro­gram (HHAP) does four pri­ma­ry things. First, it funds a crit­i­cal ill­ness insur­ance pol­i­cy for every fire­fight­er in the state. This is cru­cial as fire­fight­ers suf­fer from car­diac and can­cer at sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er rates than the gen­er­al pub­lic. This pol­i­cy will help fire­fight­ers pay for the unfore­seen costs of treat­ment. Sec­ond, it will fund the MnFIRE Assis­tance Pro­gram (MAP). Nine­ty per­cent of the fire­fight­ers in Min­neso­ta are vol­un­teer or paid-on-call, basi­cal­ly part-time fire­fight­ers, and do not have access to an employ­ee assis­tance pro­gram. MAP will assist those fire­fight­ers expe­ri­enc­ing emo­tion­al trau­ma by pro­vid­ing for mul­ti­ple vis­its with a licensed clin­i­cian. Third, it will fund the devel­op­ment and deliv­ery of edu­ca­tion for health­care providers statewide in the spe­cial needs of fire­fight­ers. Final­ly, it will con­tin­ue to fund ongo­ing train­ing to all Min­neso­ta fire­fight­ers in the areas of car­diac, can­cer, emo­tion­al trau­ma and over­all fire­fight­er well-being. The hope is that with addi­tion­al edu­ca­tion we will reduce the inci­dence of seri­ous fire­fight­er ill­ness and duty-relat­ed death.

Are there any suc­cess sto­ries from this impor­tant work that stick with you?

Two things come to mind. The first is the change in the cul­ture of the Min­neso­ta fire ser­vice regard­ing health and well­ness dur­ing my 24-year career and how that pace of change has increased since the start of MnFIRE. There is a moral imper­a­tive to fire­fight­ing; the pub­lic expects us to put our­selves in harm’s way. How­ev­er, that doesn’t mean that we as fire­fight­ers shouldn’t do what we can to mit­i­gate those haz­ards. More and more fire­fight­ers across Min­neso­ta are tak­ing the time to take care of them­selves as they take care of oth­ers. The sec­ond is when­ev­er some­one comes up to me or one of the oth­er MnFIRE team mem­bers and tells us how the work of MnFIRE has pos­i­tive­ly affect­ed them, their fam­i­ly or their department.

How has our com­mu­ni­ca­tions work togeth­er sup­port­ed your mission?

Quite frankly, we would not be near­ly as suc­cess­ful if it wasn’t for the work of Bell­mont Part­ners.  You tru­ly under­stand our mis­sion and have been able to lever­age com­mu­ni­ca­tions to suc­cess­ful­ly ful­fill that mis­sion. All aspects of our mis­sion have been pos­i­tive­ly impact­ed by your work. The look and feel of all of our com­mu­ni­ca­tion prod­ucts is con­sis­tent across plat­forms and you’ve always giv­en us excel­lent and out­stand­ing advice and service.

This past year has been espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing for first respon­ders. How do you per­son­al­ly man­age stress and how have you approached your role as a leader dur­ing these times?

This past year has been extreme­ly stress­ful for every­one, not just first respon­ders. I enjoy walk­ing, lis­ten­ing to music, read­ing, cook­ing and wood­work­ing. I try to dis­con­nect from the 24/7/365 dig­i­tal life that we lead when­ev­er prac­ti­cal and pos­si­ble. As a leader dur­ing times like these it is imper­a­tive that one tru­ly under­stand not only the needs but also the emo­tion­al state of their staff and how that is affect­ing their work and their lives. It’s always up to lead­er­ship to make sure to address and prop­er­ly bal­ance the needs of the orga­ni­za­tion with the needs of staff, but it is crit­i­cal to mon­i­tor and strike a bal­ance in times like these.

How can our read­ers sup­port the work you’re doing for Minnesota’s fire­fight­ers and their families?

Peo­ple can sup­port MnFIRE in mul­ti­ple ways. Mon­e­tary dona­tions are wel­come and will help fund pro­grams and ser­vices for Min­neso­ta fire­fight­ers and their fam­i­lies. Addi­tion­al­ly, peo­ple can attend our annu­al golf tour­na­ment, MnFORE, which will be held Mon­day, May 23, 2022, at Bearpath Golf Club. Busi­ness­es can also con­tact me direct­ly if they are inter­est­ed in spon­sor­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties at our dif­fer­ent events.

And final­ly, our favorite ques­tion, What’s Brew­ing for you?

Pri­or to the pan­dem­ic, our fam­i­ly exclu­sive­ly used a sin­gle-use cof­fee mak­er with reusable pods. My wife had cof­fee avail­able at work, only need­ing a sin­gle cup for her com­mute, but she end­ed up work­ing exclu­sive­ly from home and we need­ed to make enough for the entire morn­ing. We start­ed check­ing out cof­fee mak­ers and she decid­ed we need­ed to go “old school” and we pur­chased a tra­di­tion­al per­co­la­tor. Now every morn­ing starts with the sound of cof­fee per­co­lat­ing just like it did on my grandmother’s farm.

 

Thank you, Wayne, for your ded­i­ca­tion to Min­neso­ta’s fire­fight­ers and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to part­ner on this impor­tant work. Stay tuned for more Q&As with busi­ness and mar­ket­ing lead­ers as we reflect more on the role of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and PR.

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