Ponoka fire departments proactive, not reactive in fighting cancer

Protection is prevention when it comes to firefighter site specific cancers

Changes to provide more coverage for Alberta’s firefighters facing a cancer diagnosis are yet another positive step in the right direction, according to both local fire departments.

Last month, the provincial government announced three amendments to the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) regulations on site specific presumptive cancers for firefighters, lowering the exposure period on testicular cancer and becoming the first jurisdiction to add female specific cancers — ovarian and cervical — to that list.

The Ponoka Fire Department and the Ponoka County Regional Fire Service were pleased with the progressive changes.

“This is a positive change, but this also shows the importance of properly worn personal protective equipment (PPE) and decontamination as a preventative measure to further reduce the risks,” said Ponoka Fire Department Chief Jamie Wilkinson.

Ponoka County Regional Fire Chief Dennis Jones welcomed the change, noting fires have changed a lot over the years.

“Any increased coverage and support for firefighters (career, paid-on-call or volunteer) is always welcome. Fires have become much more toxic in the past 25 years which is why many fire departments are taking significant steps to make cancer awareness and prevention an important topic,” he said.

Wilkinson noted his department was among the first among paid-on call and volunteer departments to institute on-site decontamination protocols for firefighters, procedures that several other Alberta departments requested so they could use them as well.

“Our bodies are a giant sponge and absorb all of those toxins produced by the petro-chemicals and other items seen in homes today. That’s why we implemented the protocols combined with fully following the NFPA 1851 standards for protective gear to provide our firefighters with the best level of protection possible,” said Wilkinson.

Jones added the county service has instituted a similar decontamination procedure to prevent the fire trucks from contamination and for the cleaning of gear. He has also suggested firefighters go through pre-screening for their safety.

“We strongly encourage our members to at least get an annual physical and provide them with a list of recommended medical screening tests for firefighters to possibly diagnose cancers early, as we take this risk and the well-being of our first responders very seriously,” he said.

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