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Provincial government strengthening protections for wildland firefighters

Fire DepartmentProvincial government strengthening protections for wildland firefighters

David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, announced potential changes to strengthen protections for wildland firefighters in Brantford on Monday, April 29, 2024.

The Ontario government will soon introduce legislation that, if passed, will ensure wildland firefighters and investigators have the same presumptive WSIB coverage for cancers, heart injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that municipal firefighters do. The province is also proposing to expand presumptive coverage to firefighters and fire investigators for skin cancer and lower the service time required for firefighters to receive compensation from 15 to 10 years, bringing Ontario to the lowest required duration of service in the country. With presumptive coverage, certain cancers, heart injuries, and PTSD diagnoses are presumed to be work-related, helping ensure quicker and easier access to WSIB benefits.

“In every corner of our province, firefighters, fire investigators, and volunteers put their lives on the line to keep our families and communities safe. These frontline heroes deserve a government that values their service and sacrifice – they have earned stronger, more expansive coverage,” said David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “Our government is serving those who serve by expanding cancer coverage and ensuring wildland firefighters have the same health coverages that municipal firefighters do. This builds on the progress we’ve made in our previous Working for Workers legislation, and we will continue to work with the firefighting community as part of our long-term plan to safeguard the health and safety of our frontline heroes.”

The government is proposing changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act(WSIA), which would reduce the duration of employment requirement for entitlement to presumptive coverage for primary-site skin cancer from 15 years to 10, making it faster and easier for firefighters to access benefits. Growing scientific evidence shows that firefighters, including wildland firefighters, are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer because of their exposure to carcinogens and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in fireground dust.

“Studies have shown that firefighters have a 21 per cent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, even though it represents only one per cent of all skin cancers. They also have a higher risk of other types of skin cancers. The current latency period is 15 years. In Ontario, firefighters are developing serious melanomas earlier, making them ineligible for compensation under the current system. We thank Ontario’s government for recognizing that the legislation requires updating and amending the latency period to 10 years thus ensuring fairer treatment for firefighters and their families who face health issues due to their service. We applaud the government for expanding the coverage to include wildland firefighters who also are at risk due to their occupation,” said Greg Horton
President, Ontario Professional Firefighters Association.

The new proposals build on the government’s progress from four previous Working for Workers acts. In June 2023, Ontario expanded presumptive occupational cancer coverage for firefighters and fire investigators to include primary site thyroid and pancreatic cancers, making it faster and easier for them to access WSIB compensation and services. Working for Workers Four Act, 2024 lowered the required employment period for primary-site esophageal cancer from 25 to 15 years, as well as “super indexing” WSIB benefits above the annual rate of inflation so sick heroes can focus on their health – not struggling with the cost of living.

“I am pleased to be part of a government that prioritizes and listens to the unique needs of Ontario’s frontline emergency workers. As an active-duty volunteer firefighter with the County of Brant Fire Service, I know first-hand the supports that have been announced today will improve the lives of many workers and their families alike,” said Will Bouma, MPP for Brantford-Brant.

“On behalf of the City of Brantford, I want to express my sincere gratitude to our provincial partners for their consistent support to our Emergency Services and first responders. These measures will provide security and support to those who serve our community with courage and dedication on a daily basis,” added Kevin Davis, Mayor for the City of Brantford.

These changes are part of a larger package that will expand on the ground-breaking actions introduced in the Working for Workers Acts, 2021, 2022, 2023, which will be unveiled in the coming weeks to protect workers, help them earn bigger paycheques, and help newcomers contribute to building Ontario. By continuing to put workers first, the province is building a brighter future for all Ontarians and ensuring our province remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.

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