Firefighters are no strangers to life-or-death struggles, battling flames to protect people and property every day. But the fight against cancer is one they tragically lose all too often.
One such firefighter was Vancouver first responder Flynn Lamont, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer last year at the age of 59.
Like many firefighters, Lamont was afflicted with a cancer that’s not among the 10 presumed to be related to his job under B.C.’s Workers Compensation Act – a list that firefighters are pushing to have expanded.
“For him and his loved ones to be excluded for coverage doesn’t seem fair,” said fellow firefighter Steve Letourneau.
Oncologist Kenneth Kunz agrees, arguing there’s no reason to selectively cover certain cancers for firefighters, who are repeatedly exposed to concentrated carcinogens on the job.
“Firefighters can get any type of cancer,” Kunz said.
“The carcinogens they’re exposed to are absorbed through the skin via inhalation or inadvertently through the upper aerodigestive tract and they’re distributed in the plasma to the tissues of the body, where they’re able to act on any tissue.”
Multiple large-scale studies have indicated rates of cancer and cancer mortality are higher in firefighters, he added. Some found firefighters are 14 per cent more likely to be killed by cancer than the general population.
Kunz said that’s significant because the general population is already at high-risk. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the disease is responsible for 30 per cent of deaths in Canada, making it the leading cause of death in the country.
“To look back in time to the funerals that I’ve been to of my friends and coworkers, wow. They’ve all died of cancer,” said Letourneau.
Letourneau is currently battling colon cancer, which is among the types listed as presumptive under the WCA, making it much easier for him to qualify for benefits.
The other cancers are kidney, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, bladder, brain, testicular, ureter, esophageal, and lung cancer for non-smokers.
Lorne West, who fought fires for 39 years, isn’t so lucky. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago, which firefighters are pushing to be included in the Workers Compensation Act list, along with breast cancer and multiple myeloma.
“It would be comforting to know that my wife and my kids would have some support in taking care of me if necessary,” West said.
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the government is considering their request, but there’s no timeline for a decision.
“We are looking at the three that have been submitted to us by firefighters. We’re looking at the best available science and decisions will flow from that,” Lake said.