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Sask. would lead Canada in firefighter cancer coverage if bill passes

Firefighters in Saskatchewan are thrilled that they may soon get the broadest cancer coverage in the country.

Sask. government announced in throne speech it wants to add 6 more cancers to WCB presumptive coverage

A white bald man wearing a flannel shirt is standing in front of a brick wall, on which hangs a metal symbol for the Regina firefighters' union.

Firefighters in Saskatchewan are thrilled that they may soon get the broadest cancer coverage in the country.

The provincial government announced last week in its throne speech that it intends to table the Workers' Compensation (Extending Firefighter Coverage) Amendment Act during the fall legislative sitting.

If passed, the bill would add six types of cancer to the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) presumptive cancer coverage.

"It's good to see that the provincial government is taking into consideration the safety and well-being of the firefighters that we have here in Saskatchewan — and not only the career ones, but the composite and the volunteers," said Mike Kwasnica, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs. He is also fire chief in Humboldt, Sask., a city about 110 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

CBC News previously reported on firefighters' risk of cancer and the push in Saskatchewan — and at the federal level — for better prevention, education and workers' compensation coverage.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters, whose bodies are exposed to smoke and various toxins on the job. Their protective equipment, as well as some extinguisher foams, also contain carcinogenic materials.

The International Agency of Research on Cancer, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, declared firefighting as a Group 1 carcinogen last summer.

In Saskatchewan, firefighter cancer exposure was one of the leading causes of occupational deaths over the past decade.

Workers' compensation cancer coverage for firefighters varies by province and territory. The Saskatchewan WCB currently lists 16 cancers for which it provides presumptive coverage.

According to the throne speech, the government's bill would add six other types of cancer to WCB coverage: primary site pancreatic, thyroid, penile and laryngeal cancer, as well as soft tissue sarcoma and mesothelioma.

If the bill passes the legislative assembly and receives royal assent, Saskatchewan's WCB would provide presumptive coverage to firefighters for 22 types of cancer — more than anywhere else in Canada.

Expanding the coverage is one way the provincial government is helping and trying to repay firefighters, Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don McMorris told CBC News in a statement sent by a spokesperson. He described firefighters as "one of the best examples we have of consistent heroism in our communities."

Tyler Packham, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 181, the Regina firefighters' union, sat in the legislative assembly during last week's throne speech. He described witnessing the announcement of expanded coverage as bittersweet.

"It's something that needed to happen a long time ago, but the fact that it happened now is just special," said Packham, who also serves as a captain within Regina Fire and Protective Services.

"It's enormous for us and we thank the government for that."

The federal government passed a law earlier this year that will create a national framework to share information about firefighters and their occupational cancer across jurisdictions, among other things. The law aims to establish consistent workers' compensation cancer coverage across Canada.

Packham, who recently had a thyroid cancer scare, said he hopes the federal legislation and the upcoming bill in Saskatchewan will have a snowball effect, forcing firefighters in other provinces to push for more coverage too.


Nicholas Frew


Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at nick.frew@cbc.ca.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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