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Firefighter’s Cancer legislation – it’s time.

THERE were three firefighters in Darin Sullivan’s family — but only he survives today.

Cancer took the life of his brother-in-law and colleague at City of Sydney fire station before also claiming the life of his aviation firefighter father.

Firefighters try to convince state government to support laws to access workers compensation

THERE were three firefighters in Darin Sullivan’s family — but only he survives today.

Cancer took the life of his brother-in-law and colleague at City of Sydney fire station before also claiming the life of his aviation firefighter father.

The former union official of 28 years — who so far remains cancer-free — has joined hundreds of other firefighters to try to convince the state government to support laws that will make it easier for affected firefighters to access workers compensation.

NSW and Victoria are the only states where firefighters have to prove they acquired cancer on the job.

Under the presumptive legislation to be introduced by Labor into state parliament this week, the onus of proof will switch to the insurance companies.

The draft legislation, called Workers Compensation (Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights to Compensation) Bill, was written in consultation with paid and volunteer firefighters with 12 cancers to be included.

Among those include primary site brain cancer — with firefighters having to have been on the job for five years before the legislation would apply. The same period applies for those diagnosed with leukaemia.

Sydney firefighter Mark Griffiths died in 2007 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Other cancers include breast cancer, testicular cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, myeloma, prostate cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer.

Among the studies linking the profession to cancer include one conducted by Monash University four years ago, which found male firefighters faced a

higher risk of melanoma and prostate cancer than the general population.

There were too few female firefighters to draw a conclusion.

NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union State Secretary Leighton Drury said many firefighters who had battled cancer had chosen not to make a claim.

“In a lot of cases, they don’t bother,” he said.

“We know of a case of a firefighter who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and decided he would rather spend his time with his young family than going to court.”

The union said the state government had so far resisted any moves to introduce presumptive rights.

Firefighter John Bromwich was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma six years ago.

Mr Sullivan said his brother-in-law had been exposed to smoke, chemicals and firefighting foam in the course of his job, which he had held for 25 years.

At age 45, the non-smoker died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving behind his daughters and wife.

“In 2007, I sat by his bed with my sister as his life had all but faded,” he said.

“His financial affairs still to be worked out but no workers’ compensation or medical assistance provided for his girls. He died in a shared public hospital ward with little to show for his service to the people of NSW.”

Mr Sullivan’s father, also a non-smoker, died in 2013 from breast, bone and liver cancer shortly before his retirement age.

The aviation firefighter chose not to try to fight for workers’ compensation.

Long-serving firefighter Stephen Nunn was diagnosed with cancer at age 47.

The former Newcastle Station 260 officer said knew something was wrong when he began feeling tired and losing weight.

Peter Sullivan (left), who died in 2013, in a photo with his son, Darin Sullivan.

“I visited my doctor who ordered blood tests which confirmed I had stage four leukaemia which when researched is caused by benzene and formaldehyde, which are found in all plastics and pesticides,” he said.

Mr Nunn said the diagnosis following his attendance at “hundreds” of fires, rescues and hazmat incidents involving chemical spills, tanker fires, ship fires, house fires and car fires.

After eight months of “intense” chemotherapy, Mr Nunn returned to work after going into remission but retired soon after.

Firefighter John Bromwich was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma six years ago.

“Over the last 31 years, I have attended thousands of fires, small and large cars, houses, units, factories, rubbish and bush fires, as well as chemical and Hazmat incidents,” he said.

Firefighter Stephen Nunn is in remission.

“I have been soaked, swimming in firefighting foam and in the early days, chewed on smoke.

“I have assisted in fire cause determination investigations while choking on fuming gases.”

When making inquiries about having the cancer recognised as “work-related”, he was told he would have to identify the particular chemical responsible.

Mr Drury said Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant told a meeting with the union last year that he was personally supportive of introducing presumptive rights legislation, but that it would unlikely pass through Cabinet.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Guy Zangari said it was hoped the legislation would receive bipartisan support.

“Firefighters are routinely exposed to hazardous substances which may adversely impact their long-term health, he said.

“Studies have made conclusive links between exposure to hazardous substances and the development of certain cancers.

“It’s our duty to ensure we afford them the appropriate protections in return.”


 

EXTRAS

Here is a link to the interview on ABC Illawarra radio 25/09/18.

Also, here is the link to the campaign page to contact your local MP and ask then to #protectus so we can protect you.

To read Labor MP, Guy Zangari’s second reading speech about the proposed legislation and the Government’s reply in Hansard (27 September 2018) click here.

To see a copy of the Bill as tabled in NSW Parliament, click here.

About Darin Sullivan (1969 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.

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