Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: Presumptive legislation

March 4, 2020 
By Laura Aiken

This edition marks the third and last installment in our cancer in firefighters series by Dr. Kenneth Kunz, an oncologist. This final article brings us alongside a doctor on his journey helping firefighters and summarizes the presumptive legislation for cancer in firefighters Canada-wide. As you can see from the chart on page 17, cancers covered and minimum cumulative periods vary depending on where you live. The lack of national uniformity is just one indicator that presumptive legislation is extraordinarily complex.

To a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer and had their workers’ compensation claim rejected, the system feels broken. To a firefighter with an approved claim, the system feels like recognition and relief. The possibility for rejection or acceptance, the existence of these circumstances, can mire a conversation about presumptive legislation in mixed feelings. Legislation expansion appears to be the leading trend, and while that might not mean a win for every claim, it is a win in the right direction for firefighters. Expansion indicates widespread recogntion and acceptance that firefighters are at a higher risk for cancer than the general population.

Presumptive legislation concerns financial compensation, and the economic toll of cancer reaches beyond fighters and their loved ones to the municipalities who employ them. The emotional burdens remain unquantifiable.

A firefighter with cancer is a devastating and costly occurrence for all involved at every perceivable angle. Obviously, it would be better if the cancer hadn’t happened at all. Humans can’t get rid of cancer, but they can reduce the risk of it developing, even in higher risk situations where one’s job may inherently tip the scales unfavourably. There is hope in this, hope for a future where less firefighters get cancer.


The fire service, perhaps more than anyone, knows the power of prevention. Fire safety messaging in communities has contributed to a substantial decrease in residential fires. A Statistics Canada report drawn up in September 2017 showed that the total number of fires in the National Fire Incident Database (NFID) went down 25 per cent between 2005 and 2014. Fire related deaths declined by 32 per cent between 2008 and 2014. The fire service deserves significant credit for these lives saved.

Prevention works. Knowledge works when it’s accurate and actionable. Educating firefighters about cancer screening, lifestyle measure, and how to protect themselves from cancer through proper procedures will save lives too. A shift is afoot to make this happen, and there are firefighters who will live longer, healthier lives because of it.

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