Vollies may miss cancer compo

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Volunteer bush firefighters could be excluded from a State Government move to simplify workers compensation claims for firefighters who develop cancer.

Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell has announced a support package that includes consistent insurance coverage for volunteers, the establishment of an assistance scheme for firefighting volunteers who experience financial hardship, and simplified workers compensation claims for career and volunteer firefighters who develop a prescribed cancer.

While Nationals MLCs Phillip Gardiner and Max Trenorden have both welcomed the Government's support package, Mr Gardiner said the devil was in the detail, and there was some concern that almost 25,000 volunteers, who were part of 600 Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, may not be included in the draft Bill in relation to the cancer clause.

The 12 prescribed cancers that are covered by the support package include brain, bladder, kidney, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, leukaemia, breast cancer, testicular cancer, multiple myelo, prostate, ureter, colorectal, and oesophageal.

In a statement on October 31, the minister said the simplification of workers compensation would apply for those firefighters who fought structural fires. Structural fires are fires in a building, car, shed, or similar structure.

"This legislation will provide cover for career and volunteer firefighters who predominantly undertake structural firefighting duties, and retrospectively take into account their past years of service," Mr Buswell said.

But Mr Gardiner said many of the fires that were fought by volunteers in the bushfire brigades were not structural fires.

"When you are fighting a bush fire, there can be chemical containers in the paddock. Is that structural? Where is the line drawn? What we don't know yet is what chemicals or what part of the construction contributes to the cancer," Mr Gardiner said.

"It is unclear where and how the line may be drawn in the State legislation," he said.

Mr Gardiner called for new administrative measures to register all volunteers who attend each fire.

"There needs to be a record of the volunteers and which fires they attend. That's much easier said than done, I know, but if anyone goes to a fire and there is confirmation that they did attend, they need to go on the list.

"It's got to be up to those who are going to the fire to have their names recorded. It's in their best interests," Mr Gardiner said.

"We need to investigate what administrative procedure is required, and workable."

President of the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades of WA Terry Hunter said his association was also concerned that bush firefighters appeared to have been excluded. He said bush fire volunteers were often unaware of which chemicals they were inhaling during a bush fire.

"Often we don't know what is in the smoke, because we don't know what rubbish is in the bush, so these volunteers could quite easily be receiving the same toxins as a career firefighter who is attending a structural fire," Mr Hunter said.

"Bush firefighters don't have the luxury of a breathing apparatus, like the career firefighters. Although they do their best to stay up-wind of the smoke if they think there are toxins in it, a lot of times they don't have a choice.

"Sometimes they would have no idea what they would be inhaling, particularly in regard to rubbish that might be dumped alongside the roads, by the way of plastics and other rubbish," he said.

Mr Hunter said while the bushfire brigades came under the insurance umbrella of Western Australia's local governments, he did not believe this would be a major hurdle in including the bushfire volunteers in the draft legislation.

"If it's written in the right way, it shouldn't make any difference," Mr Hunter said.

"There has to be further negotiation on this draft legislation to make sure that it picks up bushfire brigade firefighters.

"The criteria for proving your exposure need to be relaxed, because bush firefighters would have no idea what they are being exposed to when they are fighting fires."

He said he looked forward to working with the appropriate people to overcome any possible shortcomings that currently appeared to be in the support package.

A spokesman for Mr Buswell refused to comment beyond the media release released last month.

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