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Comment: Bill 111 a relief for families

It was a coincidence that Bill 111, the legislation guaranteeing workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters who die of certain types of cancer, was fast tracked through Queen’s Park on May 3, the day before Ontario’s fire chiefs gathered in Toronto for their annual convention.

December 6, 2007
By Laura King


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It was a coincidence that Bill 111, the legislation guaranteeing workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters who die of certain types of cancer, was fast tracked through Queen’s Park on May 3, the day before Ontario’s fire chiefs gathered in Toronto for their annual convention.

In Ontario, firefighters’ families were forced to prove the victims died from on-the-job exposure to chemicals or other dangers. Now, firefighters who die from any of the eight types of cancer will be presumed to have developed the illness on the job.

While the legislation is welcome, it’s not perfect – yet. It applies only to fulltime firefighters with 10 years of service (up to 25 years of service for esophageal cancer). The regulations will apply to more than 10,000 full-time firefighters but don’t cover volunteers. However, the government has promised to begin consultations to determine how to extend similar coverage to Ontario’s 18,000 volunteer and part-time firefighters along with fire investigators and forest firefighters.

Monte Kwinter, Ontario’s minister of community safety and correctional services, told the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs the legislation was long overdue. “Not only should it be done but it’s something the fire service deserves to have done,”

Kwinter told the OAFC opening ceremonies. Kwinter also noted a troubling statistic: Two firefighters or former firefighters die of cancer every day in Ontario. In fact, the funeral for 55-year-old former Niagara Falls Fire Chief Charles Stroud, who died of brain cancer, was the day after Kwinter’s speech to the OAFC. Hamilton, Ont., firefighter Bob Shaw died of esophageal cancer in 2004, seven years after fighting a massive blaze at the Plastimet recycling plant in 1997. Shaw’s family spearheaded the battle for benefits.

The legislation received royal assent on May 4 and means about 65 claims from firefighters, including Shaw’s, that were earlier rejected will be honoured. While passage of the legislation is a major victory for families of fallen firefighters it’s also a reminder to the fire service about the necessity of wearing personal protective equipment and of the dangers in fire smoke. With more mandatory use of SCBA and growing knowledge about what’s in the air surrounding a fire scene, presumably, incidences of cancer among firefighters will decrease.

Our hazmat cover story on page 22, Hydrogen Cyanide – The Other Silent Killer, looks at the dangers of fire smoke and the potential deadly gases in it.

We also pay tribute on page 18 to firefighters Andrew Brassard and Steve Ellis, who ran into a burning house in July 2006 to save a 21-year-old man. These fireslayers are the first Canadians to receive the prestigious Fireslayer of the Year award from U.S.-based equipment manufacturer MSA.

Lastly, as the editor of Fire Fighting in Canada, with James Haley on leave, I’ve had a great ride so far, through FDIC in Indianapolis, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs convention in Toronto and the B.C. conference earlier this month. I look forward to meeting many more of you at the Maritime conference in Summerside – have a look at our story on the MFCA conference on page 12 – and to hearing from you about what you want to read in our magazine.


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