From the editor: July 2019

June 17, 2019
By Grant Cameron

The courageous men and women who do battle with wildfires in B.C. each and every summer are routinely exposed to conditions that threaten their physical as well as mental well-being.

They fight these blazes under difficult and very treacherous conditions, in inhospitable environments, in technically-challenging and life-threatening situations.

The work they do is incredibly tough and taxing, but critically important to the safety of communities. It often involves exposure to daunting conditions.

The impact can be severe. The job can, and most certainly does, take its toll.

It seems only fitting, then, that these firefighters be given access to proper job-related compensation for any issues that might result.

If they get sick, have physical or mental health problems, or develop a disorder as a result of their occupation, they shouldn’t have to prove that their obvious diagnosis is work-related.

Thankfully, that is happening. The government of B.C. recently stepped up and did the right thing by wildland firefighters.

Amendments to the Workers Compensation Act will enable wildland firefighters, fire investigators and firefighters working for First Nations and other Indigenous organizations to have easier access to compensation and support.

In a nutshell, the amendments will extend occupational disease and mental-health benefits to those in the fire service, paid and volunteer, who work around wildfires.

They will expand the cancer, heart disease and mental-health disorder presumptions to include wildfire and Indigenous firefighters, as well as fire investigators.

The bottom line, however, is that these firefighters will no longer have to prove their diagnosis is work-related.

Presumptive illnesses faced by wildland firefighters will now be recognized as conditions caused by the nature of their work.

This is a progressive and very necessary step by the government.

It eliminates barriers that prevent these wildland firefighters from rightly being covered under legislation. It provides them with easier access to the supports they need for work-related physical and mental-health injuries.

The move has received rave reviews.

Gord Ditchburn, president of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the organization is grateful to the provincial government for its belief and support of firefighters.

As he noted, being able to receive timely support is incredibly important and critical to keep those who battle wildland fires healthy, both physically and mentally.

The fact of the matter is that before 2018, presumptive conditions were limited in scope, just covering specific cancers and heart diseases suffered by some groups of firefighters.

The B.C. government expanded the presumptive conditions in spring 2018 to include mental-health disorders for police officers, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers, and most urban firefighters.

Now, it’s taken the coverage one step further.

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said the changes are all about fairness and support for firefighters, regardless of where they work.

In my opinion, these changes are great news for B.C.’s wildland firefighters. They’re also overdue.

Wildland firefighters put their lives on the line each and every time they don their gear and head into the unknown to save lives and property. Their job is equally important to that done by their urban counterparts.

This change is true recognition of that fact.

The government, in my opinion, has done right by these firefighters.

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