One prominent firefighter is applauding the provincial government for adding three more cancers to the list of occupational diseases: breast cancer, prostate cancer, and multiple myeloma.
That means a firefighter diagnosed for any of those three will not have to prove the disease was vocational to get compensation.
But while Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis says it’s the right move, he’s also calling for pre-screening for firefighters for potential cancers as numbers continue to rise.
“What we noticed was two out of five people [in the general public] will get cancer, 45 per cent for males and 45 per cent for females… In the firefighter population what we discovered is there’s a nine per cent higher chance of firefighters getting cancer, and a 14 per cent higher chance of dying from cancer.”
Garis is also on the faculty for the University of the Fraser Valley and has been researching the data around workplace injuries and fatalities for firefighters,
He says the enhanced screenings would help increase early detection.
“Just looking at the rates of fatalities associated with cancer claims in Canada and in 2006 there were 34 and in 2015 there were 62… It’s a 140 per cent increase in the number of deaths associated with cancers that have been paid by the compensation board.”
Garis says without screening, cancers aren’t often diagnosed until the firefighter is between 55 and 65-years-old.
He also says the move underscores a nationwide problem.
“I just received national data on firefighter accepted claims through workers’ compensation across Canada for every province and I can tell you that the majority of individuals that died over that 10-year period, 568, about 85 per cent of those died from cancer.”