Ontario announces reduction in latency period for firefighter esophageal cancer coverage

November 17, 2023

Major legislative change in Ontario

The Ontario Government has made a significant announcement to lower the required years of service for automatic esophageal cancer coverage for firefighters from 25 to 15 years.

This decision, announced by Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development Minister David Piccini, is a crucial step in expanding coverage under the province’s presumptive legislation for firefighters.

The story of Craig Bowman: A catalyst for change

This legislative change was influenced by the story of Local 481 member Craig Bowman, who worked as a firefighter for 20 years in Welland, Niagara Region, before succumbing to esophageal cancer at 47.

Unfortunately, Bowman’s years of service did not meet the previous requirements for automatic compensation through Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and his initial claim was denied.

The new 15-year latency period, retroactive to 1960, now recognizes Bowman’s death as line-of-duty, making his family eligible for compensation and benefits under the federal Memorial Grant Program for First Responders.

Advocacy and support from the firefighting community

The reduction in the latency period reflects the relentless advocacy by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) and the support from Bowman’s family. Greg Horton, OPFFA President, emphasized the fatal nature of esophageal cancer and its late detection, advocating for the updated 15-year latency period as more appropriate.

Esophageal Cancer Coverage: Acknowledgements and future outlook

Minister Piccini acknowledged the efforts of firefighters and advocates like Allison Bowman, stating, “Captain Bowman lived a life of purpose. And firefighters will, thanks to his leadership, forever be protected in the line of duty.”

Lexi Bowman also highlighted the importance of ongoing advocacy and education in cancer prevention for firefighters.

Additional legislative actions

Ontario recognizes 19 types of cancer as occupational hazards for firefighters for workers’ compensation benefits, along with heart injuries and post-traumatic stress.

The province has also proposed “super indexing” for WSIB benefits to exceed the annual inflation rate, further supporting injured workers.

FSJA Comment

The recent decision by the Ontario Government to lower the latency period for esophageal cancer coverage from 25 to 15 years marks a significant step forward in recognizing and addressing the occupational hazards faced by firefighters.

This legislative change not only honors the sacrifices of firefighters like Craig Bowman but also sets a precedent for how occupational health issues are approached and legislated.

It underscores the importance of ongoing advocacy and research in shaping policies that adequately protect those who risk their lives for public safety.

This development reflects a growing awareness of the unique health risks firefighters face and the need for systems that provide timely and fair compensation and support.

As such, it represents a crucial advancement in occupational health and safety, setting an example for other regions and industries.

About Ontario’s Presumptive Legislation for Firefighters

Ontario’s presumptive legislation for firefighters, which now includes the reduced latency period for esophageal cancer coverage, is part of a broader framework designed to acknowledge and compensate for the occupational health risks inherent in firefighting.

This legislation recognizes certain cancers and other health conditions as presumptively related to the duties of firefighters, thereby facilitating access to compensation and support.

Such legislation is crucial in acknowledging the sacrifices made by firefighters and in providing them and their families with the necessary support in the event of illness or injury related to their service.

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