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Ontario to increase health coverage for wildland firefighters

Ontario says it will give wildland firefighters the same cancer, heart and post-traumatic stress disorder coverage as municipal firefighters.

Labour Minister David Piccini says the province will also expand presumptive coverage to firefighters for skin cancer.

That means certain cancers, heart injuries and PTSD diagnoses are considered to be work-related, which helps ease access to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board benefits.

“This is especially important as Ontario confronts a change in climate that brings new and extreme weather and wildfire risks,” Piccini said.

Ontario’s wildland firefighters have long been fighting for the same health coverage that their municipal counterparts enjoy.

The province also plans to reduce the required service time to receive skin cancer coverage on the job to 10 years from 15 years.

Kim Leblanc, whose wildland firefighter husband Thomas died due to cancer in 2010, said she applauds the move.

Her husband spent 35 years battling wildfires in Ontario and Montana, Alberta, British Columbia. She’s been pushing for years to have cancer recognized as a workplace injury for people fighting wildfires.

“I’m thrilled. My kids are thrilled,” Leblanc said. 

“My husband’s, his last wish was that nobody else have to suffer through this. And this will mean a lot of closure for us,” Leblanc said. “If it goes through, this will be such a huge, huge thing.”

Capt. Thomas Smith of the Brantford Fire Department said it should lead to support for the family of a former colleague.
Capt. Thomas Smith of the Brantford Fire Department talks to a reporter after the news conference. (CBC)

Equity for forest firefighters is being looked at federally and recently received unanimous support from a House of Commons standing committee.

Capt. Thomas Smith of the Brantford Fire Department said it should lead to support for the family of a former colleague.

“He had a short battle, he was back to work every opportunity he had, he was determined to beat it,” Smith said.

Ontario saw a record-setting wildfire season last year, with 741 fires that burned 440,000 hectares of forest.

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