Cancer coverage and brigade members

Friday, 25 Aug 2017

With more knowledge about potential support, more and more volunteer firefighters are contacting the RFBAQ once receiving the life changing diagnosis of cancer.

As firefighters we are more prone to contracting cancer than the general population. If you receive a diagnosis for cancer you have options in seeking support and guidance.

The legislation applies to firefighters diagnosed on or after 15 July 2015 with a deemed disease and also outlines the years' of service a firefighter has had to serve in Queensland to qualify. Since the introduction of the presumptive legislation, 12 volunteer firefighter applications have been accepted, 1 is currently pending a decision and 1 has been declined.

Volunteers who are wage or salary earners in their primary employment should receive for the first 26 weeks of total incapacity, the greater of:

  •  100% of their weekly award salary or wage; or
  •  85% of their normal weekly earnings (i.e. including overtime, shift allowance etc.)

Volunteers who are self-employed and therefore do not receive a wage or salary under an industrial award should receive for the first 26 weeks of total incapacity:

  •  80% of Queensland Ordinary Time Earnings (QOTE) (which is the seasonally adjusted amount of Queensland full-time adult's ordinary time earnings, reviewed and adjusted annually); or
  •  85% of reasonable cost of replacement labour.

You can contact your RFSQ Area Office, WorkCover Queensland, The Firefighter Cancer Foundation or your legal representative; but you must contact someone to start the support you are going to need for the fight of your life.

In Queensland your entitlement to support is non-discriminatory and is equal to permanent firefighters, part time firefighters and volunteer firefighters. Below are some stories from volunteer firefighters and their families showing that cancer does not discriminate between the colour of your truck.

Click on the following links to read more:

Don’t wait for symptoms to arise
By Geoff Johnson, Grantham Rural Fire Brigade

My name is Geoff Johnson and I have been a volunteer with the Grantham Rural Fire Brigade since 1989.

Despite presenting with no outward symptoms, in early March this year I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This is one of the cancers covered under the presumptive legislation introduced in 2015. I contacted WorkCover to seek their assistance in my making a Worker's Compensation claim.

This initial contact was on a Tuesday afternoon. After providing WorkCover with some information regarding my condition, a WorkCover case manager was assigned to me. Over the next two days there were a few calls between WorkCover and myself, advising me of the next step to take.

After only three days from the initial contact, my case manager and the team leader were having coffee at my dining room table and explaining in detail how they would assist both Carol and myself through the ordeal we are now facing.

I cannot fault the response and the continued assistance from my WorkCover case manager and their assistance to us has been invaluable. I would encourage all firefighters who have had a diagnosis of cancer to contact WorkCover. With the assistance provided by them I have been able to choose a specialist to treat my cancer without having to worry about the cost.

I would urge all firefighters to include cancer testing with their regular check-up with the GP. Many forms of cancer can be detected through a simple blood test. Don't wait for symptoms to arise, be proactive and see your GP.

Des Slade
07/11/1956 - 02/03/2016

My husband Des and I moved to a beautiful little village in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland in the early 1980’s. As soon as we moved there Des wanted to be involved with the community so he joined the local Rural Fire Brigade. He became very respected in the community, eventually becoming First Officer and then the local Fire Warden for over 25 years.

In late 2014 I noticed his health was declining so we went to our local GP. I knew from the doctors expression that it was not going to be good news. After a brief examination he said, “I want you to go and have blood test and tests done. I think you might have Leukaemia. Leukaemia won’t kill you, infection will”. The doctor asked if he had been exposed to Benzene.

I can clearly remember that day, my mind was in turmoil, how can my husband who had been healthy all his life, a vegetarian, non-drinker and non-smoker for over 35 years and who walks every day be sick. it was devastating for the family and also the community.

After blood tests and a lumber puncture, Des was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis, cancer of the bone marrow. Again, the doctor asked if he had been exposed to Benzene?

Des was told he had 5 years max. The only treatment was a stem cell transplant, even that was no guarantee as his body may reject the donors stem cells.

A few months after Des’s disease we received a letter in the mail from Qld Fire Brigade that rural firefighters may be entitled to compensation for some cancers.

Myelofibrosis also classed as a blood cancer so we decided to put in a claim. Months went by and we had heard nothing. When we would ring them they would not give us and answer one way or the other.

Des still continued to work and be the Fire Warden. By now Des was receiving blood transfusion and plasma weekly. Des had to wait to see if his brothers were a match for a stem cell transplant. His brothers were not a match so he had to go on the world donor list.

Towards the end of 2015 Des’s health deteriorated. He gave up work in Sept that year.

The Workers’ Compensation had determined that Myelofibrosis was not recognised as a cancer on the list maybe caused from fighting fires.

Late February 2016 Des went to hospital. The specialist once again asked if Des had been exposed to Benzene. A few days later my daughters and I were called in to a room to be told that Des now has Acute Myeloid Leukemia and there was nothing that can be done. He has a few days left. His wish was to be brought home. He passed away surrounded by lots of love.

We were given the name and number of Steve Bunney, who is the director of The Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation. Steve and his lovely wife met with us and we explained everything to him.

What wonderful people and full of support. Steve asked us what we wanted out of this and we told him we want Des’s cancer to be recognised. Between Steve and their Lawyer Leeha James of James Law we fought for justice and just before 12 months anniversary of Des’s death we won.

Was it worth the fight?  you bet.  Des was a wonderful partner, father, and grandad and his life was not in vain and finally we had that confirmed that his occupation as a firefighter was the significant contributing factor to his death fires.

All I can ask is that you keep safe keep, fighting and support each other.

Allan Johnson History
By Allan Johnson

I joined the Mudgeeraba Rural fire service in 2000 and the thought of any firefighters getting cancer from fighting fires never entered my mind.

In March 2015 during a routine blood donation my haemoglobin levels were very high and that I should see my GP. After my GP completed several tests it was diagnosed that I had kidney cancer.

This came as a complete shock and I was overwhelmed with this news as I had always worked in clean environments and tried to keep fit. It was then that my GP made an appointment for me to see a urologist. After scans he confirmed a tumour on my right kidney. Within a week of diagnosis I was in hospital having my right kidney removed. After the kidney was removed pathology confirmed it was a stage four tumour.

After three months I had further scans and it showed a small spot in both my right and left lungs. As they were too small at the time operating was not possible and I would have to wait a further three months and then they could be removed.

At a meeting at my local brigade a member bought to my attention the relationship between firefighting and cancer.

I contacted the Firefighters Cancer Foundation Australia (FCFA) in QLD and a speaking to the director Mr Steve Bunney I was advised that I should take it further and make a claim for Workers’ Compensation. Steve drove to my house and sat down with my wife and I discussed what to do next. I never thought that that as a volunteer that I was entitled to compensation and that sort of covers would only be for permanents. 

With help from the FCFA I made the claim and I waited and I waited. Steve had mentioned that these types of claims can take a long time to determine and that I should just keep living, easy to say harder to do.

My case went to WorkCover and was denied, which all along I was mindful of but I was reassured when we decided to appeal and my claim then went to the Medical Assessment Tribunal and the FCFA Lawyers, James Law ramped up my case.

The result, my kidney cancer was determined to be caused by my occupation as a firefighter, being a significant contributing factor to my disease and the claim accepted.

The process after first being diagnosed to the final outcome was lengthy and at times I wanted to give up, it was depressing and a mentally tiring process but with the phone calls and emails that I received from Steve (FCFA) and the continued support from family and friends I’m managing to keep going.

At present I’m still fighting cancer, as small lesions have returned to both lungs. I’m currently undergoing a trial drug programme of immune therapy and staying positive, I bicycle and swim every day and I plan to be around for a while.

I would like fellow firefighters to keep safe and remember cancer doesn’t care who you are and firefighters are more susceptible to certain types of cancer. I cannot thank Steve from FCFA and his team enough and if you know anyone that may need assistance or advice or support act now, the foundation are there to help.

The Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia promotes knowledge
By Steve Bunney, Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia
The Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia (FCFA) is the first point of call for firefighters and their family members when diagnosis of cancer is received. Like cancer we do not discriminate and assist all firefighters, Volunteer, Permanents, Auxiliary etc.

FCFA promotes knowledge, awareness and advocacy for the firefighter diagnosed with cancer with an objective to help firefighters and their family members during this distressing time by providing ongoing support and assistance.

The Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia is a nationally registered charity (ABN 21 839 546 036) working for active and retired firefighters and their families.

Firefighters amongst us right now are suffering debilitating hardship and loneliness. Embroiled in the fight of their lives battling cancer and it is all done in silence.

However, a simple phone call from a firefighting colleague can make the world of difference and assist on the journey that is being diagnosed with cancer. Do you want to get involved or know of someone who could use our help? Visit Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia (FCFA) website or email.

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