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  • Stephen Lecce, MPP

Ontario Strengthening Protections for Firefighters

BRANTFORD – The Ontario government will soon introduce legislation that, if passed, will ensure wildland firefighters and investigators have the same presumptive WSIB coverage for cancers, heart injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that municipal firefighters do. The province is also proposing to expand presumptive coverage to firefighters and fire investigators for skin cancer and lower the service time required for firefighters to receive compensation from 15 to 10 years, bringing Ontario to the lowest required duration of service in the country. With presumptive coverage, certain cancers, heart injuries, and PTSD diagnoses are presumed to be work-related, helping ensure quicker and easier access to WSIB benefits.


“In every corner of our province, firefighters, fire investigators, and volunteers put their lives on the line to keep our families and communities safe. These frontline heroes deserve a government that values their service and sacrifice – they have earned stronger, more expansive coverage,” said David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “Our government is serving those who serve by expanding cancer coverage and ensuring wildland firefighters have the same health coverages that municipal firefighters do. This builds on the progress we’ve made in our previous Working for Workers legislation, and we will continue to work with the firefighting community as part of our long-term plan to safeguard the health and safety of our frontline heroes.”


The government is proposing changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), which would reduce the duration of employment requirement for entitlement to presumptive coverage for primary-site skin cancer from 15 years to 10, making it faster and easier for firefighters to access benefits. Growing scientific evidence shows that firefighters, including wildland firefighters, are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer because of their exposure to carcinogens and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in fireground dust.


The new proposals build on the government’s progress from four previous Working for Workers acts. In June 2023, Ontario expanded presumptive occupational cancer coverage for firefighters and fire investigators to include primary site thyroid and pancreatic cancers, making it faster and easier for them to access WSIB compensation and services. Working for Workers Four Act, 2024 lowered the required employment period for primary-site esophageal cancer from 25 to 15 years, as well as “super indexing” WSIB benefits above the annual rate of inflation so sick heroes can focus on their health – not struggling with the cost of living.


These changes are part of a larger package that will expand on the ground-breaking actions introduced in the Working for Workers Acts, 2021, 2022, 2023, which will be unveiled in the coming weeks to protect workers, help them earn bigger paycheques, and help newcomers contribute to building Ontario. By continuing to put workers first, the province is building a brighter future for all Ontarians and ensuring our province remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.


Quick Facts


  • Approximately five million workers and 325,000 employers are covered by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

  • Over 1,000 people worked as wildland fire and wildland fire investigators during the 2023 wildland fire season.

  • There were 741 Ontario wildland fires during the 2023 season that burned 440,000 hectares.

  • In March 2024, Ontario announced an investment of over $5 million to attract, retain and recognize wildland firefighting staff.

  • Historically the scientific community had not identified a causal link between forest firefighting and occupational cancers, until a ground-breaking July 2022 publication by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which established that wildland firefighting is carcinogenic.


Quotes


"Studies have shown that firefighters have a 21 per cent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, even though it represents only one per cent of all skin cancers. They also have a higher risk of other types of skin cancers. The current latency period is 15 years. In Ontario, firefighters are developing serious melanomas earlier, making them ineligible for compensation under the current system. We thank Ontario’s government for recognizing that the legislation requires updating and amending the latency period to 10 years thus ensuring fairer treatment for firefighters and their families who face health issues due to their service. We applaud the government for expanding the coverage to include wildland firefighters who also are at risk due to their occupation."


- Greg Horton

President, Ontario Professional Firefighters Association


"Wildland firefighting is a respected and challenging career in our natural resources sector. Our changes would support these frontline workers who work tirelessly to keep us safe, by improving their access to benefit entitlements and making them eligible for the same presumptive benefits as all other firefighters and fire investigators. Our government will continue to make investments that support fire rangers and protect northern communities."


- Graydon Smith

Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry


"Supporting the brave and dedicated heroes that protect our communities is another way the government is ensuring that Ontario is safe, practiced and prepared for emergencies. The province continues to make substantial investments to ensure that our partners across Ontario have the resources and tools necessary to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies, now and in the future."


- Caroline Mulroney

President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Emergency Management


"All firefighters are a priority for our government. The additional coverage and support that this legislation will enable, if passed, is further evidence of our government’s dedication to supporting the fire service. We are cutting red tape to ensure those who need coverage can receive it when they need it while bringing increased awareness to selfless dedication and risk that all firefighters experience daily while keeping our province safe."


- Michael Kerzner

Solicitor General


"The changes announced today are an important step to allow the WSIB to be there to help firefighters when they need us. We are ready to support firefighters if they suffer from occupational illness."


- Jeffery Lang

President and CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)


"We value the contribution of all our firefighters. As the science continues to evolve, we need to continue to identify practices, procedures and technologies that can help protect them against heart injuries and cancers, including of the skin. Many of the pollutants emitted by wildfires are known human carcinogens, and last summer the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as carcinogenic to humans, without making a distinction between municipal and wildland firefighters."


- Dr. Joel Moody

Ontario Chief Prevention Officer


"The cornerstone of Ontario’s efforts to combat wildfires is a dedicated corps of hundreds of wildland firefighters/rangers, who risk their lives to protect and defend 90 million hectares of Crown land. Whether speaking with municipal or wildland firefighters, the concerns that keep these protectors of our communities up at night, are consistent. What we have learned over the last few decades, including from my own experiences as a volunteer firefighter and member of a crew, is that there are profound physical and mental health consequences for these first responders who serve to protect people and property. Despite over 15 years of appealing to the former government for recognition of the very real dangers our wildland firefighters face each time they defend our forests and our people, nothing was done. Now, I am so proud and honoured to say that through the genuine dedication of The Honourable David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, and our government in hearing directly from our firefighters and the medical community, this latest version of the Working for Workers legislation provides recognition of our wildland firefighters/rangers as first responders entrusted with public safety just as their municipal counterparts."


- Kevin Holland

MPP Thunder Bay-Atikokan


"I am pleased to be part of a government that prioritizes and listens to the unique needs of Ontario’s frontline emergency workers. As an active-duty volunteer firefighter with the County of Brant Fire Service, I know first-hand the supports that have been announced today will improve the lives of many workers and their families alike."


- Will Bouma

MPP for Brantford-Brant


"On behalf of the City of Brantford, I want to express my sincere gratitude to our provincial partners for their consistent support to our Emergency Services and first responders. These measures will provide security and support to those who serve our community with courage and dedication on a daily basis."


- Kevin Davis

Mayor, City of Brantford


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