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A QUEST FOR FAIRNESS – Chad Thomas, the chief executive officer of Yukon First Nation Wildfire, is seen this week with NDP Leader Kate White. Photo courtesy YUKON NDP

NDP goes to bat for wildland firefighters

NDP Leader Kate White and wildland firefighters are calling on the Yukon government to include wildland firefighters in presumptive cancer coverage.

By Chuck Tobin on November 19, 2021

NDP Leader Kate White and wildland firefighters are calling on the Yukon government to include wildland firefighters in presumptive cancer coverage.

White and Chad Thomas, the chief executive officer of Yukon First Nation Wildfire, held a press conference Wednesday to publicly call on the government to include coverage for wildland firefighters under the new Workers’ Safety and Compensation Bill.

The bill is currently before the legislative assembly for review and debate.

All other firefighters in the territory – full-time, part-time or volunteer – are covered by the compensation act.

Currently, for instance, if a Whitehorse city firefighter with a minimum of 10 years’ service was to develop cancer, it’s automatically presumed the cancer is related to their work as a firefighter, so they are automatically entitled to compensation coverage.

Conversely, if a wildland firefighter develops cancer, to receive compensation, the firefighter must prove the cancer is related to his or her work.

“Today, I’m calling on the Yukon government to extend the presumptive cancer coverage to include wildland firefighters,” White told reporters.

“Just like full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters, all covered under the new act, Yukon’s wildland fire fighters are first responders that regularly risk their own lives to protect the lives and property, infrastructure, and natural resources of Yukoners.

“Yet, this government has specifically excluded wildland firefighters from presumptive cancer coverage under the new Workers’ Safety and Compensation Bill.”

White said the government is touting the bill as the most progressive in the country, but they’ve said several times they will not be including the wildland firefighters in the presumptive coverage.

Studies in other jurisdictions, said White, have shown wildland firefighters are exposed to carcinogenic and other harmful substances.

She said wildland crews are increasingly called upon to work on wildland-urban interface where they fight structural fires.

Yukon firefighters are regularly called upon by other jurisdictions to assist, where they face both wildland and structural fires, she said.

White said Yukon firefighers, for instance, were in Fort McMurray, Alta. to assist with the devastating fire of 2016 that destroyed more than 3,000 buildings.

The B.C. government, she said, changed their legislation in 2019 to include presumptive coverage for wildland firefighters.

White said she is hopeful the government will include presumptive coverage for wildland firefighters and serve as an example for other jurisdictions across the country.

Thomas – who has 19 years as a wildland firefighter – said firefighters regularly assist with wildland-urban interface fires, and he expects to see more and more of it.

Wildland firefighters, however, do not have the breathing apparatus worn by urban firefighters, he pointed out.

Thomas said when he developed cancer and approached the compensation board, the board didn’t even want to have the conversation about coverage.

Expanding the legislation to include wildland firefighters would be a show of support for firefighters who are out there doing the job, he said.

Richard Mostyn, the minister responsible for the compensation board, was unavailable to the Star for comment this morning.

James Price, a communications analyst with the board, said any changes to the legislation are up to the legislative assembly, emphasizing wildland firefighers are still covered but not under the presumptive legislation.

Including wildland firefighters would increase costs for employers in certain industries, Price said. He did not provide any examples, but noted those employers have not been consulted.

Price said current research does not point to a higher risk of cancer to wildland firefighters.

“We’ll continue to monitor research into the health issues facing wildland firefighters and make future recommendations to government as appropriate,” he said.

White said the minister responsible has said he has not heard of the suggestion to include wildland firefighters in the presumptive coverage.

The recommendation is clearly laid out in the government’s What We Heard report on the modernization of the Worker’s Compensation Act, she said.

She said the government has the opportunity now to do right by the firefighters, as the legislation is currently before the house for review.

“We’re not asking for a complete re-do,” she said. “We’re asking to remove one phrase, so that wildland fire fighters can benefit from the same protection and the same coverage as all the other firefighters in the territory.

“This is a matter of equity,” said the NDP leader. “It’s a matter of health and safety.”

Comments (5)

Up 3 Down 26

Go Kate on Nov 20, 2021 at 7:54 pm

Way to go Kate! If the other poster here is correct and airlines will pick up the tab, than Air North for example can just pass on the costs to consumers. People shouldn't mind paying a higher ticket price if it is for a good cause.

I think paramedics should be covered for cancer presumption as well and maybe police officers too. It isn't about money or stats or evidence, its about doing the right thing.

Up 6 Down 11

Politico on Nov 20, 2021 at 2:15 pm

@TMYK The problem with governments is they lack presumptive thinking, always ignoring warnings, waiting till disasters have already claimed lives before taking forever to react to a disaster! How many years of destroyed lives and suffering before governments started to recognize the diseases firefighters had to face for being "Heroes" and putting their lives at risk. Your argument is nothing more than a veiled attempt to keep from spending money to prevent a problem before it becomes a major issue in the future!

Up 7 Down 15

Jason on Nov 20, 2021 at 2:06 pm

I would say in the north the wild land firefighters see so much more direct action then the volunteer or city firefighters It doesn’t make sense that we wouldn’t treat them the same. Much respect to both occupations but there aren’t too many fires to fight in the city of Whitehorse!

Up 13 Down 27

Snowman on Nov 19, 2021 at 8:27 pm

This is a great initiative from the NDP. Who cares if wildland firefighters don't fight the same types of fire? They still deserve the same coverage. I used to work at WCB so I can tell you that the costs will not be borne by all businesses. The only ones who will see their rates jacked up will be the 'Resource and Transportation' sector. So basically, airlines, placer miners, quartz mines, trucking companies etc. and we all know those businesses are the richest in the territory, so I say, go for it Kate! Screw the Liberals and their attempts to block you. They obviously don't care about people like you do.

Up 36 Down 19

TMYK on Nov 19, 2021 at 2:28 pm

Presumptive legislation doesn’t make sense for wildland fire fighters. This is poor posturing on the NDPs part.

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