Health & Safety Report

As I was driving home from another funeral for a Firefighter struck down by cancer, I could not get something out of my mind. It was a conversation I had while standing outside the church before the funeral service was to begin for acting Captain John Kovacs, of the Tillsonburg Fire Department. A woman approached me. She was confused as to why Captain Kovacs’ passing due to cancer was being reported as a “line of duty” death. I responded with a phrase that I had heard at another funeral: “He did not die in a fire. He died because he was at the fires.” This seem to clear it up for her but still left a nagging sadness in my heart.

The difficult thing to grasp about cancer is that the disease hits us years after we have been exposed to hazardous situations, and the accumulated effects of those exposures continue throughout a firefighter’s career. In the past we took of our packs off as soon as we could and I shudder to think what we breathed in when doing overhaul.

Today, the only advice I can give my fellow firefighters is to always wear air packs or respirators when we are in contact with any possible off gases. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense even if it is uncomfortable. Also educate yourselves on what we are being exposed to and how to deal with it safely. Start with the guidance notes of the section 21 committee and your own department’s SOPs. Learn how to minimize the dangers.

One last thought: at the point of being diagnosed with a cancer a firefighter and their family are overwhelmed. It is a devastating news to deal with. Then they try to deal with W.S.I.B. on top of everything else. The presumption legislation that has been put in place makes this process a lot easier but does not make it automatic. Also, there are a number of other benefits that families may have to ask for, that may not be offered upfront, unless the family knows to ask for them. If anybody has ever had to deal with W.S.I.B. you know that it seems as if they speak a different language. This makes it difficult to understand what is needed to speed the process along. The adjudicators at W.S.I.B. are not trying to put something over on you. They just have to work within a bureaucracy that can be frustrating at best.

That is where I can help. I have a working knowledge of “compezee.” Please feel free to contact me with your questions. I can guide you through the process and advocate on our membership’s behalf.

Jeri Ottley

Home Phone 519-825-7866

Cell Phone 519-324-5687

e-mail:  healthandsafety@ffao.on.ca