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Tuesday, March 1, 2016 With firefighters facing growing cancer risks, London (Ontario) is spending nearly $10 million to help pay for the looming health crisis.

The City of London (Ontario, Canada) workplace injury fund has jumped to $46.8 million from $37 million, largely because the city now has to pay for increased compensation for cancer victims, says a report headed to a city hall committee Monday.

“It’s devastating. Science has shown us that rates of cancer in firefighters are higher than the general population, because of our jobs,” said Jason Timlick, president of the London Professional Firefighters Association, the department’s union. “It is great politicians are acting on this.”

The report on “unfunded liability” going to the city council committee says the city will see a jump of more than 10 per cent in the fund, from $101.2 million in 2013 to $113.4 million in 2014.

Unfunded liability is money the city has to pay in the future to cover such obligations as pension and retirement benefits, vacation salary, and even to manage closed landfills, to name a few — and that $113.4-million total covers future costs in all areas.

But the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board obligation alone is jumping to $46.8 million from $37 million.

“This has been going on for years,” said Timlick.

Firefighters suffer greater health risks because everything in a building is chemically treated — furniture, carpets, paint, wood and appliances — and when they burn, the fallout is toxic.

Though firefighters use sophisticated breathing apparatus and wear protective gear, their exposure to toxins can build up over a career, including through skin and clothing, increasing their risks.

“Think of your home — try to think of something that does not have chemicals in it,” said Timlick. “They all have some type of treatment.”

In fact, of 25 names on the association’s monument to its dead, 13 had cancer. And at least six of the association’s more than 350 retirees suffer from the disease, as do some current firefighters, he said.

“You should see a sofa burn. It is terrible,” said Timlick. ”I am happy the city is finally recognizing it. Our members and their families need this.”

The boost in compensation is tied to Ontario legislation requiring municipalities to budget for the cost, since communities have been hit with a greater cost for paying cancer victims.

Last April, Premier Kathleen Wynne expanded the number of cancers covered for firefighters. Tne number now totals 15. Claims can be retroative to 1960.

The legislation labels firefighter cancer as “presumptive,” meaning one who suffers doesn’t have to qualify or prove illness under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, which can be onerous, to get benefits.

Although presumptive cancer claims have been available to firefighters for years, only recently — as the list of cancers that can be claimed was expanded — has the fallout been felt, with 2014 the first time London saw it hit the budget bottom line, said Alan Dunbar, the city’s manager of financial planning and policy for the city.

“This is a presumptive cancer issue, there have been claims in other communities and legal rulings” allowing firefighters to make the preferred claims, said Dunbar.

Timlick said he believes the fund will have to be boosted even more in future, to help pay the cost of stress disorders firefighters also suffer.

The report on unfunded liability goes to council’s strategic priorities and policy committee Monday.

The firefighter association in London has about 380 members.


By the numbers

25 Names on London’s monument to fallen firefighters

13 Number who died of illnesses and diseases related to the job

15 Number of cancers for which firefighters are covered in Ontario