October 31, 2005

B.C. introduces law that recognizes cancer as job hazard for firefighters

VICTORIA (CP) -- The B.C. government introduced a law Monday that recognizes cancer as one of the many hazards firefighters face while on the job.

Labour Minister Mike de Jong said Bill 11 recognizes certain cancers as occupational diseases associated with long-term employment as a firefighter.

The law changes the Workers Compensation Act to make it easier for a firefighter with cancer to receive compensation benefits, he said.

"It's a historic day," said de Jong at a ceremony with the firefighters. "We thought the laws in British Columbia should reflect the risk that your members run."

The new law puts the burden of proof on the employer to establish why a cancer-stricken firefighter should not be eligible for compensation rather than requiring the firefighter to prove the case, said de Jong.

"The hazards that our firefighters face in the course of their duties can often be overcome by teamwork, training and courage, but occasionally we find that as a result of a career spent fighting fires, some of our brave first responders face yet another uphill battle, and that is a battle with cancer," he said.

The law applies to firefighters who became disabled from cancer on or after April 11, 2005.

British Columbia now becomes Canada's fifth province to offer some form of cancer-protection law for its firefighters, joining Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Al Leier, B.C. Professional Firefighters Association president, shook his fist in triumph at a ceremony attended by about 50 firefighters from across the province.

"This truly is a tremendous day for professional firefighters in British Columbia," he said.

The B.C. law names brain, bladder, kidney, uretor and colorectal cancer as occupational hazards for firefighters. It also names leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It is a fact of life in our occupation," Leier said. "We just had a funeral in Vancouver last week for a firefighter who died of leukemia. We've just been notified of another firefighter in Abbotsford who has leukemia."

Prior to the law being introduced, firefighters were forced to attempt to prove to the compensation board their cancers were work related, he said.

Leier (sic) many of the items inside burning buildings -- computers, carpets and furniture -- create a toxic smoke that enters the body every time a firefighter answers a call.