Victorian Firefighters have dismissed a government panel set up to help firefighters with cancer seek compensation as a waste of time, with volunteers claiming they are not getting treated the same as the professionals.
Firefighters claim new cancer panel a waste of time
Date June 13, 2014 | Richard Willingham | The Victoria Age
Firefighters have dismissed a government panel set up to help firefighters with cancer seek compensation as a waste of time, with volunteers claiming they are not getting treated the same as the professionals.
International studies have shown that firefighters are at a greater risk of developing specific types of cancers due to prolonged exposure to hundreds of chemicals in the line of duty.
Most states only provide coverage for paid firefighters.
The Napthine government has resisted calls from firefighters, and a legislative push from the Greens with in-principle support from Labor, to introduce similar laws here. It has concerns about the cost of covering volunteers and has also called for more evidence, especially regarding the CFA, which has angered firefighters.
Firefighters can make a claim through current WorkCover rules and last August the government established a firefighter’s assessment panel to help streamline the process and is encouraging firefighters to lodge a claim if they believe their cancer was work-related.
Since 2012 there has only been 29 claims made – only two are volunteers – and only four firefighters have received compensation.The government could not say how many claims have been made since the new panel was set up.
There has only been two claims from volunteers. A 12-year veteran of the CFA in Clematis, near Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges, Greg Goullet last year was diagnosed with non-curable chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which is recognised by federal laws for career firefighters for automatic compensation.
Mr Goullet, 48, who runs a lifesaving training business, is now in remission but doctors warned him that at best, the cancer would return in 10 years. He lodged a claim with the panel in October for $3500 to cover time off from work but was rejected because there was not evidence of “significant exposure”.
“I’ve obviously been exposed to considerable carcinogens in my time as a firefighter through types of jobs like car fires, houses fires as well bushfires,” Mr Goullet said.
Despite the panel being set up to streamline process his claim was not rejected until February. The panel has also refused to give him case documents and would only provide the medical reports to his GP.
“I’m pretty pissed. I volunteer my time to train and attend emergencies, you would like to think the community, through the government, would actually support the volunteers,” Mr Goullet said.
He said it was a disgrace that the government were happy to use volunteer firefighters, “who are saving them millions by not having to have paid firefighters in all areas of the state” but would not provide cancer support.
He has no right of appeal under the process but has engaged lawyers who are considering a supreme court challenge.
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria say the new panel has done nothing for them and is set up so each claim will fail.
Slater and Gordon’s Craig Sidebottom, who works in WorkCover claims including representing frefighters, says the new panel has been a political exercise set up ahead of planned protests last year.
“To the extent the introduction of the panel has been trumpeted to be helpful for firefighters with cancer it has proved anything but,” Mr Sidebottom said.
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