Firefighter walking across the state makes stop in Montevideo

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

On Monday afternoon, those in the downtown area of Montevideo witnessed a man with a flag, escorted by a fire truck with flashing lights walking his way through town to reach the Montevideo Fire Department. The man is named Doug Foote, a Chanhassen firefighter who is walking a 200-mile route this week in order to raise awareness about the biggest threats to firefighters mental and physical health. This journey is a fundraiser for the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE), an organization dedicated to providing firefighters and the people who care about them in Minnesota with tools to prioritize and protect their health. Foote arrived at the Fire Department around 10:40 Monday morning, taking a few moments to rest, rehydrate, and chat with local Fire Chief Mitchell Stueck. By that time of day, Foote had already trekked 11.5 miles with another 20 to go for the day. The journey began on Sunday, September 12th in Marietta, and will end at the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial on the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, September 18th.

Chanhassen firefighter Doug Foote walks through downtown Montevideo on his 200-mile route.

Foote says he was inspired to raise funds for MnFIRE as he has attended several of the trainings the organization offers, as well as witnessing the help MnFIRE has provided to colleagues of his. “They have had incidents that they’ve seen and that’s weighed on them mentally and MnFIRE has offered a tremendous amount of help and education on that,” says Foote. “That’s really important because we lose about five to six firefighters a year due to suicide so that was a big inspiration.” MnFIRE not only provides assistance and training in issues pertaining to mental health but also in issues related to physical health as cardiovascular disease and cancer are prevalent dangers for firefighters. “I have two parents who died of cancer and that’s another part of it,” Foote says. “It’s a concern that I have and they (MnFIRE) really put a big emphasis on de-con and taking care of your equipment so you’re not increasing your risks. Firefighters are at an increased risk for so many forms of cancers, from urinary cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, throat cancer, and others. How can you not be inspired by an organization that’s trying to take care of firefighters and their health.” Foote says he can’t pinpoint exactly how the idea of walking across the straight to raise awareness of the fundraising for MnFIRE came about. “I don’t know. I think it was a God thing. I was just inspired. I’m a person of faith and I think it was put in my head for a reason,” he says.

Along the route, Foote’s wife Denise has been traveling along as well. “She definitely thinks I’m nuts. She told me I owe her big for this and we gave up our 27th wedding anniversary for this, so I’ll have to find some way to make up for that,” he jokes. “She’s always been a steadfast supporter of mine from day one when I became a firefighter. She is the best person I’ve met in my life. Not ONE of the best, THE best.” Foote also carries a flag along with him on his journey, which is quickly filling with signatures along the route. “Whenever I stop, if somebody comes out or if I’ve got my brothers and sisters coming along, it’s important to have them sign it because I’m carrying them with me,” he says. “That’s symbolic because every single one of these people who have signed this - their name is going to be walked all the way to the Fallen Firefighter Memorial in St. Paul. When you show up to support the cause and just show that spirit of being a firefighter and family, friends, community - I want your names down because I’m carrying everyone with me. It means a lot and it’s inspiring.”

One of the things Foote emphasizes is important for the public to know that they may not be aware of is that firefighters face dangers outside of the fire calls and accident calls they respond to. “I don’t know if a lot of the public knows what the increased risk is for firefighters,” Foote says. “They think about it as firefighters are always running into a fire as everyone else is running out. They don’t realize that actually, firefighters are putting themselves at risk of dying from cardiac arrest and cancer. The number one killer of firefighters is cardiac arrest, not fires. And cancer - only God knows how many of us have died from cancer because it’s very difficult to track that. And then, there’s the stigma of PTSD. Firefighters don’t talk about it like Veterans don’t. If there’s anything that I want the public to walk away with, it’s that firefighters are dying so often from those three things, so reach out if folks can. Please donate so we can raise awareness. MnFIRE is awesome about advocating with the State Legislators.” 

Mike Scott, of MnFIRE, was also traveling with Foote on Monday and noted that the Montevideo Fire Department is one of the few in the area that has taken the free training offered through the organization. “They were one of the first departments to jump on board with the training, and have made some changes because of the training they’ve received,” Scott says. “Our whole goal is to keep everybody safe. Everyone involved with MnFIRE has some personal story. I just retired as the Egan Fire Chief. I was at the fire service for 38 years. My dad was a volunteer at the fire service for many years, so I grew up around that like many of us do. When my dad retired, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer which is one of the cancers that firefighters get. He died within a couple of years at age 60. My goal and the fire chief’s goal is to reduce the instances of that happening so that’s the awareness that we’re trying to bring about.” Montevideo Fire Chief Mitchell  Steuck was at the station to welcome Foote as well and noted “I want to thank him for supporting firefighters. It’s very important to the Fire Department.”

Foote ended the conversation on a note of hope, saying, “Right now our country is really divided. People are feeling bad about the politics, and COVID, and masking, and vaccinations. If you want to see something uplifting, don’t look further than the firehouse that’s nearby and the firefighters because they rise above all that and they will always come to your rescue. If you want hope don’t look any further than your fire department.” 

For more information about how to become a corporate sponsor of MnFIRE or how to make a pledge to their fundraising efforts, visit www.mnfireinitiative.com/miles-for-mnfire.