Yukon firefighters win job-related health benefits

Yukon firefighters have secured benefits if they suffer from heart attacks or certain types of cancer considered to be job-related.

Yukon firefighters have secured benefits if they suffer from heart attacks or certain types of cancer considered to be job-related.

Eligible cancers

Changes to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Act means firefighters who are diagnosed with the following types of cancer after June 30 will be eligible for coverage:

  • Leukemia.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Bladder cancer.
  • Brain cancer.
  • Colorectal cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer.
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Testicular cancer.
  • Ureter cancer.

Amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act to include coverage for firefighters passed third reading Thursday in the Yukon legislature.

Starting July 1, the new law will apply to all of the nearly 400 full-time, part-time, volunteer and wildland firefighters in Yukon.

Heart attacks suffered within 24 hours of fighting a fire will be presumed to be job-related, as will at least 10 cancers that regularly haunt the firefighting profession, including lung, brain and kidney cancer, according to the legislation.

"If at any time after June 30, 2011, a person who is or has been a firefighter is diagnosed for the first time with a listed disease, the listed disease is presumed to be a work-related injury unless there is evidence to the contrary," the legislation states.

Firefighters are often exposed to toxic smoke from burning building materials, household contents and plastics. As a result, they face an increased risk of developing cancer.

Firefighters have been pushing for these changes for a number of years.

'Right thing to do,' says fire chief

Dawson City fire Chief Jim Regimbald likened the new protections for firefighters to the current debate over concussions for professional athletes.

The benefits detailed in the amended act will apply to all of Yukon's nearly 400 firefighters, including part-time, volunteer and wildland firefighters. ((CBC))

"It's the right thing to do, and we can almost look back to the headshots in the NHL," Regimbald told reporters Thursday in Whitehorse.

"The education and the information to the public and to the [workers' compensation board] is being brought forward."

The Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board said there has been no history of any job-related heart attacks or cancers among firefighters in the territory.

But Regimbald said this kind of legislation is needed so that firefighters do not have to fight for compensation.

"Back then, they would have had to go through that whole process, where now it's presumed that hey, it was career-related," he said.

Yukon becomes the eighth jurisdiction in Canada to include extended coverage for firefighters, but the first to include those who fight forest fires.