Six new kinds of cancer are being covered for Firefighters, making a special impact amongst Swift Current's Fire Department.
It was announced last month during the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly during the Throne Speech that The Workers' Compensation (Extending Firefighter Coverage) Amendment Act would be expanding its cancer coverage to half a dozen more kinds.
Those cancers being covered are thyroid, penile, soft tissue sarcoma, mesothelioma, and laryngeal cancer. These are cancers that are prevalent in the field, affecting many active and former firefighters.
For Swift Current Fire Department Fire Chief, Ryan Hunter, it's something that he is happy to see Saskatchewan take the lead on implementing.
"I'm extremely pleased that they included six other cancers in the presumptive legislation because we train and we buy equipment and we do everything we can to protect our firefighters," said Hunter. "But we can never eliminate every single danger."
Firefighters are regularly exposed to several carcinogenic materials during their duties. One group of such materials is Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. These are a known group of carcinogens firefighters accumulate, along with asbestos and diesel exhaust.
Crews are required to wear personal protective equipment. This equipment includes self-contained breathing apparatuses which help to limit their exposure. However, being in and around as many fires as there are ramps up the rate of exposure so much that even these precautions don't guarantee safety.
Saskatchewan is indeed the first province to expand to this level of coverage for firefighters. Hunter figures in another year or two, other provinces will be sure to follow the trail Saskatchewan has blazed for their own crews.
The hope is that by extending this coverage, those working or who have worked as firefighters will feel comfortable speaking to their medical professionals regarding the possibilities of these cancers.
There exists a stigma that you shouldn't talk about these things lightly. In an industry where it's so very prevalent, it's almost paradoxically near taboo to discuss. Yet, it wouldn't have happened without those who understand the risks pushing for additional coverage and legislation in and amongst Saskatchewan's firefighting ranks.
"The heavy work that was put in lobbying for these issues and the workload to get the government on board was from the firefighters in Saskatchewan," credited Hunter. "So I congratulate them as well as thank the province for coming together and making the cancer legislation as strong as it is."
For Hunter and other members of the Swift Current Fire Department, the sting of cancer is even sharper than for others. They experienced the tragic loss of two of their own, Fire Chief Darren McClelland in 2019, and Captain Wyatt Evans in 2017. Both of these firefighters were taken away from their families, friends, and their crews by cancer.
"Here in Swift Current in the last number of years, it's touched us personally," said Hunter. "We take it very seriously."
Hunter assured that his teams will be encouraged to speak up regarding concerns they may have. This additional coverage will be something they take advantage of, further ensuring better care for the crews in the Fire Department.
Already, fire crews in Swift Current go through yearly medical checkups. They are monitored from the first year they enter to the year they leave. This helps them to keep track of their well-being, as well as hopefully catching any medical developments before they have a chance to grow beyond their control.
While this new bill amending the existing coverage will certainly benefit every firefighter in the province, it still has yet to take effect. The bill will need to be introduced and passed and is set to do so in the near future.
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