HFD pledge

Members of the Hutchinson Fire Department took a picture with Doug Foote, who is walking 200 miles across Minnesota to raise awareness and funds for firefighters’ health through the Minnesota Fire Initiative. Hutchison Fire Chief Mike Schumann and the HFD also pledged a $343 donation to Foote’s cause.

If you see firefighters out walking on the trails around State Highway 7 this week, there’s no need to offer them a ride. They’re choosing to walk for a cause that hits close to home.

Chanhassen firefighter Doug Foote is walking 200 miles across the state in firefighter gear to help raise awareness and funds for the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative, or MnFIRE, a nonprofit that provides firefighters and their families with training and tools to protect their health from cardiac events, emotional trauma and cancer — the three health problems most commonly experienced by people in fire service. It’s called Miles for MnFIRE. Foote started his walk Sunday, Sept. 12, in Marietta, but he hasn’t done it alone. Along the way, he’s been joined by other firefighters and supporters from the communities he passes through.

On Wednesday, he was about half finished with his trek when he visited Hutchinson to meet with local firefighters and continue his journey to Silver Lake.

“It’s been so inspiring,” Foote said. “I will tell you, I’ve been a little stressed out about walking along the highway, because it’s obviously dangerous, especially in rural areas. Every single town we’ve gone through — Marietta, Madison, Dawson, Clara City, Blomkest … Cosmos, Lake Lillian — we have had at least one vehicle protecting my back and the walkers’ backs the whole way.

“To be able to walk across Minnesota, have semis honking their horns and people pulling off to the side of the road to take pictures and shake our hands, it’s been incredibly inspiring and I’m really proud of my state.”

Foote said the idea for Miles for MnFIRE came to him after he had gone through the group’s training. He knows the devastation that mental illness, cancer and cardiac events can have on people, because he’s experienced them in his own family. So he reached out to George Ebensen, president of MnFIRE, and pitched the idea for his walk.

“They’re so good about the training that they provide, and to see fire departments picking up on that and practicing it, it’s impacting lives,” Foote said. “So I thought, ‘Jeez, I’d love to do something to raise awareness about these three mortalities, but also do a fundraiser.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I love my state, I love Minnesota, so why not walk across the state.’”

MnFIRE helped plan the event and coordinate the path Foote is walking through more than 20 communities.

During his stop in Hutchinson, Fire Chief Mike Schumann and other members of the Hutchinson Fire Department pledged a $343 donation to Foote’s cause, choosing that amount to commemorate the 343 New York firefighters who died on 9/11. If others would like to support the cause, Foote asked people to visit mnfireinitiative.com to learn more and donate.

As Foote prepared to leave the Hutchinson fire station Wednesday, he did so with two new companions — Hutchinson firefighters Jerrod Weckman and Jeff McKay, who joined him on his walk that day to Silver Lake. From there, Foote was scheduled to go through Lester Prairie, New Germany, Mayer, Waconia and other communities until eventually arriving at the Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday.

What does Foote plan to do after seven days of walking across the state?

“We’ll call it a day, then I’m probably going to go home and have a drink with my wife,” he said.