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Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect the public and community – often showing extraordinary courage in the line of duty.

But there’s growing evidence our firefighters are paying a tragic price later in life, having been exposed to dangerous and toxic substances during their careers.

In a welcome move, the law has made it simpler to access compensation if these emergency workers develop any of a number of specific work-related serious cancers.

What long term health risks are associated with firefighting?

Research has shown firefighters are susceptible to developing a number of serious cancers due to the nature of their work and exposure to carcinogenic substances.

Toxic fumes, dust, asbestos and other dangerous materials can be an occupational hazard.

Illnesses linked to this profession include:

  • prostate cancer
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • multiple myeloma
  • leukaemia
  • malignant melanoma
  • mesothelioma
  • cancers of the buccal cavity/pharynx, stomach, colon, rectum, skin, brain, bladder

How has the law changed around compensation?

Each state and territory across Australia has introduced presumptive rights legislation. This means career and volunteer firefighters, who meet certain requirements, can access compensation for specified cancers because it is assumed they contracted as a result of serving as a firefighter.

Eligible firefighters will be provided with simpler access to compensation by giving them ‘presumed entitlement’.

However, there are some differences from state to state around when a firefighter can access entitlements. For example, rules around how soon an illness must have been diagnosed varies across the country, so it is important to research the rules in your state and seek advice if you are unsure.

Who qualifies for presumptive compensation?

Career firefighters and volunteers, who have been diagnosed with one of specified types of cancers noted table below may be able to qualify.

  • Primary site brain cancer
  • Primary site bladder cancer
  • Primary site kidney cancer
  • Primary non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Primary leukemia
  • Primary site breast cancer
  • Primary site testicular cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Primary site prostate cancer
  • Primary site ureter cancer
  • Primary site colorectal cancer
  • Primary site oesophageal cancer

Diagnosis must be made in the course of service or within a certain time since ceasing service. Firefighters must also have served in roles for the set qualifying period.

These time limits vary depending on your state or territory, so it is important to understand the rules as they apply to you.

What if I don’t meet the requirements?

If you have served as a firefighter and have been diagnosed with cancer it is important to get legal advice to help you understand your rights and options - irrespective of whether you meet the presumptive requirements.

There are avenues still available to career and volunteer fighters who are not covered by the presumptive rights.

And there may also be support available for relatives and dependants of firefighters who have been diagnosed with a condition related to their work.

We ask our firefighters to take risks for our safety, so it’s only right that we as a society are there later in life when they need us.

The presumptive rights take away some of the stress of accessing financial support and reflect the debt we our firefighter if they pay the ultimate price for their service.

Learn more about our work in workplace disease compensation

Our dedicated workplace disease lawyers have significant experience in helping clients get compensation for occupational diseases caused by asbestos, silicadust exposure and more. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

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