MP visits to Fire Stations tomorrow to commemorate International Firefighters' Day an opportunity to discuss occupational cancer

On International Firefighters’ Day we remember and recognise all firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their community. It is a day for the global firefighting community to reflect on the devastating outcomes for some firefighters and their families as a result of selflessly putting their lives on the line to protect lives and property. We pay our respects to the firefighters who died in the line of duty – as a result of an accident or injury but also as a result of occupational illness.

It is also an opportunity to educate decision-makers and the general community that is not just one fire that kills firefighters, it is a series of fires through the accumulated exposures to toxins.

This year as New Zealand’s Members of Parliament take the time to meet with firefighters on station it is a timely opportunity to discuss firefighters’ occupational cancer and the NZPFU campaign for presumptive legislation. As they visit your station tomorrow share with them with them the experiences firefighters have had with occupational cancer.

The key messages are:

  • Firefighting is a dangerous occupation and firefighters put their quantity and quality of life on the line every time they respond. Some are injured while attending fires and incidents but the most common killer of firefighters is less obvious – occupational cancer.
  • Firefighters are exposed to a lethal cocktail of toxins and chemicals at every structural fire and other incidents. Some of the most toxic fires are the house fires which firefighters respond to repeatedly over their career of service to the community.
  • Even the best personal protective uniforms and equipment (such as breathing apparatus) can never fully protect firefighters as their firefighting uniforms have to breathe to avoid metabolic heat build-up. Firefighters absorb the lethal toxins and carcinogens through their skin.
  • The fire ground is a dynamic and dangerous – we cannot test the smoke or fumes at fires – firefighters must enter the fireground as time is the difference between saving a life or reducing the damage to properties.
  • There is a wealth of accepted credible evidence that has demonstrated the link between career firefighting and the significantly increased incidence of a specific list of cancers in career firefighters when compared to the general population.
  • Firefighters cannot access their ACC entitlements (loss of wages, treatment costs and compensation) because they cannot prove which fires and which toxins at those fires resulted in the contraction of cancer.
  • No one would deny a firefighter or the family or a firefighter their compensation if the firefighter was killed on the fire ground. Firefighters and their families should not be denied compensation for their illness or death resulting from exposures on the fire ground.
  • Governments in the USA, Canada and Australia have all accepted the scientific evidence of the nexus between career firefighting and the significant increase in specific cancers. Those Governments have also addressed the inherent unintended injustice in workers compensation schemes that prevents firefighters accessing their entitlements as they would for any other work injury or illness. Those Governments have amended the workers’ injury compensation schemes to include a presumption that a specific list of cancers are occupational cancers for firefighters.
  • Presumptive legislation reverses the onus of proof. Instead of the firefighter being required to prove which fire and which specific toxins the exposure resulted in cancer, it is presumed that a specific list of cancers are occupational cancers for firefighters.
  • The NZPFU is campaigning for Parliament to amend the ACC legislation to presume a specific list of cancers are occupational cancers for firefighters.
  • The specific list of firefighters’ occupational cancers recognised by Governments are brain, bladder, kidney, non-hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia, breast, cervical, myeloma, prostate, testicular, ureter, colorectal, stomach, oesophageal, lung, mesothelioma and skin cancers.

Every Member of Parliament has been invited to meet with international expert and Winnipeg Firefighters Union President Alex Forrest when he returns to Wellington to promote our campaign for presumptive legislation in May. All MPs have been invited to a function being held at Parliament on the evening of 21 May, as well as been offered the opportunity to meet separately with Alex.

  • If the MP visiting your station would like to know more about firefighters’ occupational cancer and how they can support us, or would like us to re-send the invitations to meet with Alex, please let me know.
  • If the MP is supportive take a photo of them on station and send through to the NZPFU Facebook page.
  • If the MP wants to support the campaign let me know and we will talk to them about championing presumptive legislation.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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