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W.S.I.B Cover only 30% of Active Firefighters

How would you feel if it was announced in your workplace that only one person out every three would be covered by W.S.I.B for certain types of injuries and disease, but you would all still be required to perform the same job? In most workplaces this would never be tolerated, but for over 19,000 people in Ontario this is a fact. In May 2007 the McGuinty government announced an amendment to the W.S.I.B Act to cover firefighters for certain “fire related” illnesses, these included; eight types of cancer and work related heart injuries that occur within 24 hours of the firefighter being at a fire. Within days the amendment was unanimously passed into law and coverage was extended to the over 10,000 “Professional” or full-time fire fighters across Ontario. At the time, there was also a provision to extend this coverage to; fire investigators, forest firefighters, part-time firefighters and volunteer firefighters, but to date nothing has happened. In truth, volunteer firefighters, such as we have in Russell and Embrun outnumber full-time firefighters in Ontario almost 2 to 1. According to the most recent statistics from the Fire Marshal’s Office there are 19,028 volunteer firefighters as compared to 10,823 full-time firefighters. Yet the government only feels that a minority of people taking on this responsibility deserve to receive extended coverage for the financial protection of their families.

 

In May of 2007 with the cameras rolling and the attention of the press, Premier Dalton McGuinty made the following statement when introducing the amendment to the W.S.I.B Act affecting firefighters; "The sacrifices made by these heroes every day inspire us to do all we can to keep them safe. It's our job to make sure that firefighters and their families are taken care of when the job is done." Unfortunately for Nancy Harris and her children, this commitment remains unfulfilled. Nancy’s husband Wayne Harris of the Midland Fire Department lost his battle with cancer in what would have been an open and shut case for compensation if Wayne had been a full-time firefighter. But because he was a volunteer firefighter, no compensation has been forthcoming. Unbelievably the family can not even make a claim because the current laws do not recognize his death as work related.

 

For volunteer firefighters this situation is deeply insulting. A vast majority of the people who assume this position do it because they want to give back to their community. It is not a career move, and it definitely not for financial gain, but a certain level of protection must be provided considering the risks involved. Unfortunately for people like Nancy Wayne all they can do is wait, she has been told that she will likely be able to make a claim once further legislation is passed, but how much longer should she have to wait? Over two years has passed since the coverage was provided for full-time firefighters and there doesn’t seem to be any resolve to deal with this matter in the near future.

 

Volunteer firefighters don’t have a union to lobby politicians for their cause, we do however have communities that support the efforts and commitment of the people that take on this responsibility. Many local politicians like to stand next to firefighters for photo opportunities, now it’s time they stood up for us as well.

 





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