Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia making WCB coverage mandatory for volunteer fire departments

The Nova Scotia government is making it mandatory for every volunteer firefighter in the province to be covered by the province's Workers' Compensation Board. The change in the law will affect about 2,800 volunteer firefighters in the province.

Change to the law will extend workers' compensation coverage to about 2,800 more firefighters

Troy Robertson suffered a stroke he said was related to his work as a volunteer firefighter, but did not qualify for workers' compensation. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Troy Robertson assumed he was covered by Nova Scotia's Workers' Compensation Board when he suffered a debilitating stroke on June 11, 2017, that he links to his work as a firefighter.

But it was only when his compensation claim was rejected that he found out the Maitland and District Volunteer Fire Department where he serves wasn't part of the system.

"All my stuff went to WCB, and then it got shut down because I was a volunteer," Robertson told reporters at Province House in Halifax following a briefing on a bill to extend coverage to him and thousands of other volunteer firefighters.

On Thursday, the Nova Scotia government said it is amending the legislation governing the Workers' Compensation Board to make it mandatory for municipalities to pay for the coverage of volunteer fire department members in their respective jurisidictions.

The province estimates it will cost roughly $48 a year per firefighter. Currently, about half of the 6,000 volunteer firefighters in Nova Scotia are without WCB coverage.

The largest group of volunteer firefighters who will now be covered are the roughly 500 who serve in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Ryan Stewart is with DND Firefighter Union Local 80412. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Robertson said he lost his job because of the stroke, which he said was as a result of chemicals he was exposed to 18 months prior at three fires on the same day. Without workers' compensation, he said, it was other firefighters who came to the aid of his family.

"My brothers and sisters in other fire departments — they were the ones who raised funds for me, and they worked hard to help me out, which was huge," he said.

The change to the law will also extend presumptive cancer protection to the 100 paid firefighters who work in Nova Scotia for the Department of National Defence. Although they are covered for injury and death, they were left out when it came to cancers that are presumed to be tied to on-the-job exposure to certain chemicals.

Ryan Stewart, with DND Firefighter Union Local 80412, said he isn't sure why he and his colleagues were left out when the law was changed to include presumptive coverage, but he is glad the province is moving to rectify the situation.

'Unique type of dangers'

He said DND firefighters face specific challenges others don't.

"We all know some of the older buildings within DND [have] asbestos, especially for us on the navy ships, and we also cover the ammunition depot," he said. "It's very unique type of dangers for us versus our municipal counterparts.

"So our exposure, I don't say we're at more risk, but it's definitely a different risk and it's just nice to know that we're going to have something for us if something happens."

Although the changes won't technically take effect until a year after the bill becomes law, but the coverage will be extended retroactively to its passage.

WCB spokesperson Sarah Reeves said since presumptive cancer benefits for firefighters were included in 2003, there have been 119 claims submitted, with benefits paid in 77 cases.

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