(L-R) Alberta labour minister Christina Gray and Premier Rachel Notley meet with Calgary Fire Department members Mike Andrusco, Shalee Stair, and Peter Cone at the Calgary Firefighters Training Academy before making the historic announcement on presumptive work-related cancers. Image: Government of Alberta

History made on firefighter work-related cancers

Alberta first in the North America to recognize cervical and ovarian cancer in firefighters

Thousands of firefighters in Alberta will now be covered by a historic decision made by the provincial government.

On Jan. 19, Premier Rachel Notley, alongside labour minister Christina Gray, announced changes to the legislation on presumptive cancer compensation benefits that now include ovarian and cervical cancers for women — a first in North America. One other big change is the reduction to 10 years in the minimum eligible exposure period for testicular cancer.

“As firefighters look out for us, we should do more to look out for them. Firefighers have a far higher cancer risk as an occupational illness and as protective gear improves, the rules to help them should evolve over time,” said Notley, who made the announcement at a press conference at the Calgary Firefighters Training Academy.

“With eight out of 10 firefighters being volunteers, all of those who choose to add this risk to protect all of us, I’m pleased to announce the updating of the presumptive cancer legislation to make the lives better for all of those brave individuals.”

The update came following a comprehensive review of Alberta’s Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) along with what Notley described as sensible suggestions from the Alberta Fire Fighters Association (AFFA) — the group that represents full-time career firefighters in the province.

The Premier stated she was surprised that ovarian and cervical cancer, both of which are unique to women, were not covered until now.

“I’m so proud of the progress made and express my personal gratitude to all first responders in Alberta who are committed to protecting us. And knowing you are on our side, this is the least we can do.”

That concept of consistency was also applied to testicular cancer’s exposure period, since scientific data along with a vast number of worldwide jurisdictions have held the latency period at 10 years.

“Bringing it down to 10 from 20 years is simply fair and consistent with other fire services,” noted Notley. “And with that in mind, we are eliminating the expiry date in the legislation as we deem it no longer necessary as support should never be time limited.”

Craig MacDonald, AFFA president, was grateful for the changes he described as ‘ground breaking.’

“It is also something unique that Alberta is taking the lead in advancing female specific cancers that will certainly help the rest of our profession. I’m honoured, proud and couldn’t be more happy about what we have done today.”

The changes will affect the more than 14,000 career, paid-on call, casual and volunteer firefighters in Alberta as well as the estimated eight per cent that are women.

The firefighters presumptive cancer WCB regulation was created 15 years ago.

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