News Local

Widow fights for compensation

Lauren Carter Special to The Packet & Times

Presumptive legislation that enables full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters to qualify for workers' compensation won't help a local woman whose husband died from cancer last summer after three decades fighting forest fires for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

Under the legislation, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) presumes that heart injuries and eight kinds of cancer are work-related under certain conditions.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is covered by the WSIB when the firefighter has served at least 20 years. Kim Leblanc's husband, Tom, died of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but because he wasn't a municipal employee, he does not qualify for compensation under the current legislation.

The Leblancs filed a WSIB claim, but it was rejected. Kim Leblanc, who lives in Moonstone, has sent a letter telling the board that she's going to appeal.

"Tom [Leblanc] was a firefighter who got a disease that other firefighters get so he should be covered," said MPP Garfield Dunlop, who questioned the Minister of Labour, Charles Sousa, about the issue during Question Period at Queen's Park on Wednesday, which Kim LeBlanc attended as his guest.

According to the Minister of Labour's office, the presumptive legislation for full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters is based on scientific evidence that exposure to chemicals leads to a higher risk of cancer. There is currently insufficient evidence linking forest fires and the acquisition of the eight compensated cancers.

"I know that the WSIB continues to review issues such as this, and I will bring this matter to the board's attention," Sousa said in an email.

"The Minister of Labour is there to defend firefighters in Ontario," Dunlop said. "If we defend and support part-time and volunteer firefighters, he has an obligation to make sure the WSIB review gets done quickly."

"We're not even talking about huge numbers of people. We don't have thousands."

This spring, the MNR is hiring 780 forest firefighters as seasonal employees. In Ontario, there are 19,000 volunteer firefighters.

Kim Leblanc said that her husband worked 19-day shifts, from sun-up to sundown and would fight enormous fires that were sometimes measured in miles. He lived in smoke, she said.

"I realize that when you take a job like a firefighter or a police officer, there are inherent risks - but municipal firefighters have breathing apparatus while the guys in the bush only have hard hats and steel-toed boots," she said.

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