New support for firefighters welcome, says chief

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Newly announced cancer supports for Alberta firefighters are certainly welcome, says Cremona fire Chief Kevin Miller.

On Friday, the provincial government announced that firefighters who contract ovarian or cervical cancer will receive workers’ compensation benefits and supports.

The minimum exposure period will be 10 years for those cancers. As well, the government is reducing the minimum exposure period from 20 to 10 years for compensation for testicular cancer.

“I would say that it is definitely welcome news,” Miller told the Gazette. “No matter how safe you train to be, there’s always an element of exposure at certain types of incidents that are very difficult to prevent.

“That is important news and I’d say that it is good in the province recognizing the hazards that are in the profession and trying to create supports for people who do end up with that unfortunate illness.”

There are more than 30 volunteer firefighters on the Cremona department.

“There is such a variance in what we can be subjected to and we work hard to identify those hazards, but it is difficult to completely clear all of them.

“There are certain exposures that you can’t prevent, like skin absorption exposure. It is welcome news and definitely a good thing.”

In announcing the changes on Jan. 19, Premier Rachel Notley commended Alberta’s 14,000 full-time, part-time, casual and volunteer firefighters for their ongoing efforts.

“We stand with you and we will make sure you have the financial and medical supports you need if you are battling cancer,” said Notley.

“To the brave men and women who serve Alberta every day as firefighters: thank you. We have a deep respect for your work, as you protect our lives, environment and homes.”

Christina Gray, minister of labour added: “We are ensuring that firefighters, regardless of their gender, get the help and support that they need.

“Albertans know that firefighters represent what is best about us: courage, valour and sacrifice. We have their backs, and that’s why we are making Alberta a leader across the country by improving coverage for those who fight for us.”

Craig Macdonald, president of the Alberta Fire Fighters Association, said: “The association applauds the government of Alberta for expanding cancer protections for Alberta firefighters. Firefighters are six times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, and adding female reproductive cancers not only strengthens the diversity of our profession, it makes Alberta a leader in the fire service.”

Section 24.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act states that if a firefighter suffers from a primary site cancer of a type specified in the regulation, that cancer shall be presumed to be an occupational disease, and therefore eligible for Workers’ Compensation Board benefits.

“Such claims are adjudicated like any regular occupational disease claim and eligibility for compensation will be determined based on the merits of the case,” the province says.

The province says 80 per cent of Alberta’s firefighters are volunteers. Of all the firefighters in the province, about eight per cent are women.

“No matter how safe you train to be, there’s always an element of exposure at certain types of incidents that are very difficult to prevent.”

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Dan Singleton

Dan Singleton is the editor of the Mountain View Gazette who joined the newspaper in 1994. He covers news, municipal politics and community events in Mountain View County. He is also a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.