POLL: Local firefighters face cancer battle

Michael Welsh is fighting for a fair deal from the State Government on fire cancer compensation for the region's volunteer fire fighter fighters.
Michael Welsh is fighting for a fair deal from the State Government on fire cancer compensation for the region's volunteer fire fighter fighters. Jayden Brown

AS Jenny Welsh recovers from breast cancer, the last thing she and her husband Michael should be thinking about is what the politicians are up to in George St.

Mrs Welsh found out she had the disease early this year.

The 47-year-old has had a mastectomy and after powering through some gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, she is hopeful the cancer is gone.

But the disease still plays strongly on the mind of Mr Welsh.

Research shows that as a firefighter, he is at higher risk of cancer than non-firefighters.

"Firefighting is a very dangerous business to be in," Mr Welsh said.

"We are exposed to lots of different substances, mostly airborne in smoke.

"We as volunteer firefighters are not allowed to have breathing apparatus.

"The only current protection for us from inhalation is the paper mask."

The couple, who divide their time between Toowoomba, where their girls attend school, and their Warwick farm are determined to make sure the State Government gets cancer compensation right for the region's 4636 volunteer firies.

In the past 12 months, the region's unpaid yellow army attended 1439 blazes across the Toowoomba-Warwick district.

More than 36,000 volunteer Queensland firies are lobbying Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt to rethink a small clause in the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill that was introduced to Parliament earlier this month.

The clause means unpaid firefighters will have to attend 150 fires over five years before they are eligible for dormant or hidden fire-related cancer compensation.

They will only have 10 years to make a claim.

Their paid colleagues have lifetime cover for cancer and they will only have to attend one fire to be eligible for compensation.

Mr Welsh said the State Government needed to ease the financial burden of fatal diseases.

"Families come under severe financial stress when a life threatening illness strikes," he said.

"Having no help from compensation or delayed compensation payout can break families apart."

He urged the State Government to make sure all firefighters were treated as equals.

"All firefighters must have protection for work cover for illnesses that occur years down the track," Mr Welsh said.

"There should be no discrimination."

Do you think the State Government should show more compassion to volunteer fire-fighting cancer victims seeking compensation?

This poll ended on 29 July 2015.

Current Results





This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Mr Pitt said the amendment was not about saving money.

"It's about ensuring sick firefighters who contract potentially deadly illnesses through their work receive the compensation they deserve in a timely and equitable fashion," he said.

"The Government is open to considering the views that key stakeholders like the Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland have.

"This includes any additional data or research that volunteers have on their exposure risk relative to permanent and auxiliary firefighters."

The government is also considering the LNP's Protecting Firefighters Bill, which would see all firies needing to only attend one blaze to earn compensation.

Emergency services shadow minister Jarrod Bleijie said Mr Pitt's proposal was "unfair".

"All firefighters should receive the same protection, irrespective of pay status or the colour of the fire engine," Mr Bleijie said.



Deadly job has high risks

FIREFIGHTERS are more likely to get certain cancers than the rest of the community.

A three-year Monash University research project found the disturbing trend.

The study of 233,000 firefighters found rates of melanomas were 45% higher than in the general population.

It also found male firies were 23% more likely to get prostate cancer than their non-firefighting counterparts.

There were also instances of testicular, male breast, kidney and leukemia-type cancers among the firefighters.

Specific female cancers could not be determined because of the low number of women firefighters across the country.


Topics:  firefighters rural fire brigade warwick

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