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New regulation provides all firefighters illness coverage

By COS staff

Ontario is making it easier for the province's volunteer and part-time firefighters and fire investigators, who suffer fire-related illnesses, to qualify for benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, according to a statement from the Ministry of Labour.

The province has established a new regulation which presumes that eight types of cancer — as well as heart injuries within 24 hours of fighting a fire or a training exercise — that are suffered by these workers would be work-related, unless proven otherwise. The same presumptions currently apply to full-time firefighters in Ontario.

The types of cancer covered under this new regulation are brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, certain types of leukemia, ureter cancer and esophageal cancer.

Previously, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) had internal operational policies for dealing with some types of occupational diseases for firefighters, but generally assessed each firefighter claim on a case-by-case basis to determine if the disease was work-related or possibly caused by other factors not related to a firefighter's job.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have presumptive legislation to address specific health concerns of firefighters. Ontario's legislation allows it to do the same through regulations under the WSIA.

The regulation will apply to volunteer and part-time firefighters and fire investigators from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal who meet certain conditions and to diseases diagnosed or heart injuries sustained on or after Jan. 1, 1960, the ministry said.

There are about 11,000 full-time firefighters, 19,000 volunteer firefighters and 220 part-time firefighters in Ontario. Forty-six fire investigators from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal are on active duty.

An amendment to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997, received Royal Assent on May 4, 2007, allowing the government to make regulations affecting Ontario's full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters and fire investigators.

According to a Ministry of Labour statement, in establishing this legislative framework and regulations, the government took into consideration a combination of scientific and consultative information, including:

•    Information provided by and consultation with fire sector stakeholders and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario

•    Several studies and medical journals that support a link between firefighters and various cancers

•    The rate of acceptance by the WSIB of firefighter cancer claims

•    A review of how other jurisdictions have dealt with presumptive legislation.

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