MONTREAL, QC–Recalling that the rates of specific cancers among firefighters are statistically higher, Montreal Firefighters Association President Chris Ross called for an urgent and significant improvement in the list of cancers recognized as occupational diseases, noting that the proliferation of cancers has become an epidemic within the Montreal Fire Department (SIM) over the past few years, and particularly over the past 5 years.
Ross pointed out that 32 Montreal firefighters have died of recognized forms of cancer over the past five years: cancers officially caused by contaminating exposures in the workplace and covered as such by the CNESST.
Even more dramatic are the reported cases that are added, year after year, to the too long list of firefighters affected by this multifaceted occupational disease.
This is why the Montreal Firefighters Association has launched an intensive awareness campaign on the multiple dangers of these cancers. “Cancer is a true epidemic in the fire service: it is, in its various forms, the main cause of death in service among Montreal firefighters, and it is the same in all of Canada,” added Ross, adding that this situation is only likely to increase over time with the predominance of plastics, composite materials as numerous as they are diverse used in modern construction, as well as in the manufacture of industrial and commercial furniture which, under the effect of the combustion, develop toxic gases such as the firemen are infallibly exposed to the toxicity of million known or unknown chemicals which are the cause of cancers.
January having been declared Firefighters Cancer Month, the Montreal Firefighters are increasing this month, and even beyond, the awareness of the dangers leading to cancers, particularly those of the brain, bladder and kidney, not to mention colorectal cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among both firefighters and women. This particular awareness will be achieved by encouraging broader in house discussions in the stations and developing multi-lateral prevention strategies that go beyond good hygiene practices with the use of SCBAs (respirators) and personal protective equipment (PPE). The NPA also looks forward to working closely with the employer to ensure that adequate resources and decontamination protocols are rigorously maintained.
The union leader went on to specify that the awareness approach will be based on three pillars: prevention, of course, preventive detection of cancers and then, compensation, if applicable, which has been facilitated by the adoption of legislation regarding the presumption that certain cancers and other diseases are work-related when contracted by firefighters with a certain number of years of continuous, on-the-job work.
“To combat the disease at its source, we will promote and encourage preventive detection through access to cancer screening at a younger age than other workers, because of the increased level of risk demonstrated in firefighters,” said Ross, expressing his belief that the famous list of nine different types of cancers scientifically proven and recognized by law to be work-related in firefighters can be legitimately expanded in the name of common sense and fairness in the workplace and public service. “Public safety is a priority and in many professions, time is money; but, in our profession, time is linked to respect for life,” concluded Ross.