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HomeCanadaInconsistent Provincial Coverage on Firefighter Deaths by Cancer Motivates New Legislation |...

Inconsistent Provincial Coverage on Firefighter Deaths by Cancer Motivates New Legislation | Breaking:


Fire knows no borders in Canada, but firefighters’ workplace compensation for some cancers does. A new federal law could change that.

How provinces compensate firefighters for workplace-related cancers, the deadliest occupational hazard they face, varies widely.

Provincial workplace safety boards link different types of cancer to firefighting, making it difficult for some firefighters to access compensation.

“Having this inequality of coverage for firefighters when they are diagnosed with these diseases is a real disservice to those who serve the community,” said Neil McMillan, director of science and research for the International Association of Occupational Safety and Health Division of Medicine. . of Firefighters (IAFF).

Neil McMillan, director of science and research for the IAFF’s Division of Occupational Medicine, Safety and Health, said cancer is the biggest occupational threat facing firefighters. (Jean-Francois Benoit)

Earlier this year, MPs and senators passed a private members bill, championed by Liberal MP Sherry Romanado, which seeks to standardize that compensation.

It is designed to create a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancer within a year.

“We are delighted that it has made its way through the House and Senate in unanimous support and has been signed into law,” Romanado said.

“Strangers come to me crying… saying, ‘You’re going to save lives.’ It’s been really overwhelming.”

The law, formerly known as Bill C-224, will see the provinces and the federal government share research on occupational cancers for firefighters, with the goal of establishing greater consistency in coverage across the country.

Romanado, whose husband and father both served as firefighters, said it felt like fate when she was chosen to introduce a private member bill shortly after a constituent approached her on the issue.

Jean-François Couture was 44 years old, with two school-age children, when in 2017 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.

He had served as a firefighter in Longueuil, Que. for over 20 years prior to his diagnosis.

While his cancer is covered by the Quebec workplace safety and health board, he knows others aren’t so lucky, which is why he contacted Romanado for a legislative solution.

“I was thinking, what can I do to help other people?” she told Breaking:.

After Couture contacted Romanado, he met with the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs to discuss the issue.

“When I started researching it, [I] I realized that there was really a big discrepancy between the provinces,” he said.

change is not guaranteed

The new law requires the establishment within one year of a new national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancer among firefighters.

Authorities from across the country will meet to discuss coverage, share research and data between provinces, and talk about best practices to prevent cancer.

But the law doesn’t guarantee that provincial job safety authorities will end up covering more cancers for firefighters.

“At the end of the day, [the provinces] decide what to do, but at least we know that everyone gets the same information,” Romanado said.

The two provinces that currently cover the lowest number of suspected cancers for firefighters, New Brunswick and Quebec, say they are willing to expand their coverage.

In a news release, the New Brunswick workers’ compensation board said it is open to expanding cancer coverage for firefighters.

“Indeed, we are currently exploring this,” WorkSafeNB spokeswoman Laragh Dooley said in a press release.

Quebec’s workplace health and safety board, CNESST, said in a press release that changes to Quebec law in 2021 made it easier to add new occupational diseases to its coverage.

CNESST said it has formed a committee to look at the expansion of the number of cancers affecting the firefighters it covers.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) estimates that 95 percent of deaths in the line of duty are attributable to cancer.

Burning materials release carcinogens. Firefighters are also exposed to chemical byproducts of combustion or debris.

Even diesel exhaust and some foams used in firefighting can expose firefighters to cancer risks, said Paul Demers, director of the Center for Occupational Cancer Research based at Ontario Health in Toronto.

“There’s really been a long-term concern about cancer risk in firefighters,” he said. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, there have been more and more studies that have been coming out that have given us a more consistent picture of what types of cancer…we’re seeing more in firefighters than in the general population.”

The increasing number of wildfires in Canada presents a unique threat. Because wildfire work involves long deployments in remote areas, McMillan said, those firefighters don’t have the same access to personal protective equipment that they would if they were working in a burning building.

“Firefighters take an oath to put themselves in danger, and that means being exposed to carcinogens and toxins,” he said.

Romanado said his hope for the bill is that it leads to better practices for cancer prevention. He also designates January as “Firefighters Cancer Awareness Month.”

“I really want to get the job done so that we can be there and support those who are supporting us,” he said.

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