Firefighters often put their own lives at risk to save others, it comes as part of the job.
Within Saskatchewan, however, they have often been unprotected when it comes to medical issues that can arise from the hazardous situations they face daily.
Saskatchewan firefighters were in the legislature Dec. 4 when an amendment was made to include six new cancers for presumptive coverage under The Workers’ Compensation Act.
Firefighters will now be able to file a Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) claim for prostate, skin, breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer, as well as multiple myeloma under the occupational disease presumption.
Alex Paul, deputy-chief for the Prince Albert Fire Department told paNOW he sees this as a large victory for firefighters in the province.
“We had a list, previously, of 10 cancers whereby if you contracted those after a latency period, which varied by the cancer, then it was presumed to be work-related,” Paul said. “The health risks to a firefighter are more than just the immediate risk of being trapped in a building or being injured on the job on the day of an incident. These cancers are developing years after contact with carcinogens and in some cases after a person has retired.”
Paul added two-thirds, or 68 per cent, of firefighters will typically be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. The number is a significant increase compared to the general population which is diagnosed at roughly 22 per cent.
“This ensures they have the health care that they need even if they have retired,” Paul said.
Paul also noted how pleased he is with these changes, and said many of his colleagues share the same sentiment.
“Firefighters are running towards danger as others run away, and face great risks when performing their duties in often challenging situations,” labour relations and workplace safety minister Don Morgan said. “They also face the potential of dealing with occupational diseases related to their chosen profession.”
The newly-added cancers also recognize the changing demographics among firefighters, with half the new cancers added primarily or only impacting women.
“This is an important day for firefighters across Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan Professional Firefighters Association president Lloyd Zwack said. “We appreciate the government continuing to recognize the hazards we face every day and to know that they are just as committed to our longterm health as we are to keeping the province safe.”
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