Posted by Mark Weber

George Esbensen: The Minnesota Fire Fighter Initiative (MnFire)

George Esbensen may have stepped down as Eden Prairie’s fire chief at the end of 2018, but he’s still advocating for firefighters in a big way.
Speaking to the Eden Prairie A.M. Rotary Club on Sept. 17, Esbensen shared information on the nonprofit he helped found: the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, also known as MnFIRE.
Esbensen has transitioned to the private sector and a director position with Superior Product Handling Solutions, but he’s volunteering plenty of time on evenings and weekends to improve the health and wellness of firefighters through MnFIRE.
The former fire chief noted that Minnesota ranks 45 th in the nation in per-capita fire service spending, despite being the 21 st most populous state. Meanwhile, he added, firefighters are suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health challenges associated with the job. Imagine if your vocation, day in and day out, was to serve people who are having their worst possible day. “It’s not normal,” he said.
But that’s the life of Minnesota firefighters, so MnFIRE is working in areas including education, prevention, support, and research to make sure firefighters, their families, and health-care providers are attuned to critical information about firefighting and its hazards. For example, because they are exposed to carcinogens in their everyday routine, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer.
The nonprofit MnFIRE has also established a telephone hotline, where the most common call is about firefighting’s emotional trauma, which can lead to sleep disorders, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.
Local legislators are on board by supporting bills that will help, Esbensen said, including creation of an employee assistance program for all Minnesota firefighters that would target emotional trauma unique to fire service. But the legislation stalled last session, and so public help in reaching other lawmakers is needed, according to Esbensen. Or, folks can give financial support to MnFIRE, which is a 501(c)3 that can be found at
“We need people’s time,” Esbensen said. “We need their energy and their expertise. And Minnesota can afford to make a lot more investments than they have.”


We have some great programs ahead, including Dr. Paul Sperduto of Minneapolis Radiation Oncology on Sept. 24, Senior Wealth Manager Nathan Faith of Boulay on Oct. 1, and international business speaker David McNally on Oct. 8. A special joint Swallowship program with the Eden Prairie Noon Rotary Club and Edina Rotary will be held 5-7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Tavern 4 & 5 in Eden Prairie and features Drs. Willy and Sophia Menendez, who are being honored for their pre-natal care effort – supported by Rotary – at the La Escuintla Hospital in Guatemala. Watch for exchange student Clementine in the upcoming high school production of “Guys and Dolls.” Turn in your club engagement form to Holly Link if you haven’t already done so. Same with the Be the Bridge pledge forms as the club, led by Aaron Casper, tries to reach a $25,000 goal. Contact Adam Sienkowski if you have a project or event that would benefit from club intern help. Members are encouraged to get out and meet local business people and introduce sponsorships as an opportunity. Work continues on a replacement fundraiser or fundraisers, now that Vino Classico has ended. Leaders are needed! 

Happy Fives

We’re happy and we’ll happily pay to share our stories. Glenn Olson is happy to be alive after being attacked by hornets at his farm. Dennis Kim is happy about his company’s 40 th anniversary celebration on Sept. 19. Josh Swanson is happy to be gathering with his administrative team to implement a new school year. Steve Cwodzinski is happy about Sept. 17 being Constitution and Citizenship Day. 


Todd Bollig - Rotarian
Polly Bowles - Prospective Member
Jack Kuehn - Rotarian
Clementine - Exchange Student
Mrinalni Iyer and Nicki Kunz - Student Interns