Volunteer firefighters now fighting for cancer compensation
AS Jenny Walsh recovers from breast cancer, the last thing she and her husband Michael should be thinking about is what the politicians are up to in George St.
Mrs Walsh found out she had the disease early this year.
The 47-year-old has had a mastectomy and after powering through some gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, she is hopeful the cancer is gone.
But the disease still plays strongly on the mind of Mr Walsh.
Research shows that as a firefighter, he is at higher risk of cancer than non-firefighters.
"Firefighting is a very dangerous business to be in," Mr Walsh said.
"We are exposed to lots of different substances, mostly airborne in smoke.
"We as volunteer firefighters are not allowed to have breathing apparatus.
"The only current protection for us from inhalation is the paper mask."
The couple, who divide their time between Toowoomba, where their girls attend school, and their Warwick farm, are determined to make sure the State Government gets cancer compensation right for the region's 4636 volunteer firies.
In the past 12 months, the region's unpaid yellow army attended 1439 blazes across the Toowoomba-Warwick district.
More than 36,000 volunteer Queensland firies are lobbying Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt to rethink a small clause in the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill that was introduced to Parliament recently.
The clause means unpaid firefighters will have to attend 150 fires over five years before they are eligible for dormant or hidden fire-related cancer compensation.
They will only have 10 years to make a claim.
Their paid colleagues have lifetime cover for cancer and they will only have to attend one fire to be eligible for compensation.
Mr Walsh said the State Government needed to ease the financial burden of fatal diseases.
"Families come under severe financial stress when a life threatening illness strikes," he said. "Having no help from compensation or delayed compensation payout can break families apart."
He urged the State Government to make sure all firefighters were treated as equals.
"All firefighters must have protection for work cover for illnesses that occur years down the track," Mr Walsh said.
"There should be no discrimination."
Mr Pitt said the amendment was not about saving money.
"It's about ensuring sick firefighters who contract potentially deadly illnesses through their work receive the compensation they deserve in a timely and equitable fashion," he said.
"The Government is open to considering the views that key stakeholders like the Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland have.
"This includes any additional data or research that volunteers have on their exposure risk relative to permanent and auxiliary firefighters."
The government is also considering the LNP's Protecting Firefighters Bill, which would see all firies needing to only attend one blaze to earn compensation.
Emergency services opposition spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said Mr Pitt's proposal was "unfair".
"All firefighters should receive the same protection, irrespective of pay status or the colour of the fire engine," Mr Bleijie said.
AT A GLANCE
- There are 4636 volunteer firefighters in the Toowoomba-Warwick region.
- In the past 12 months they attended 1439 fires.
- The State Government wants to change the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to ensure paid and volunteer firefighters have access to compensation for late-onset cancers caused during their duties.
- To be eligible, volunteer firefighters will have to attend 150 fires in five years and they will only have 10 years to claim compensation.
- Paid firefighters have only to attend one fire and there will be no time limit on their claim.