The committee heard that firefighters are, upon recruitment, within the top
5–10 percent of the general population in terms of physical health and fitness.
Yet, within a few years of employment, firefighters are between 2 and 5 times
more likely to develop one of the cancers listed in the Bill than the general
Currently, as outlined earlier in this report, firefighters who develop
cancer are required to prove—often through litigation—a causal link between the
cancer and their work. The committee received extensive evidence about the
hardship and stress this causes firefighters who are battling a serious
disease. This Bill, the committee heard, would simply remove that hardship and
stress and give firefighters a better chance at recovery.
The committee received submissions and heard from a number of
firefighters, and families of firefighters, whose lives have been changed by
cancer. The committee again thanks them for taking the time to make submissions
and give evidence. A few of their stories are outlined below.
Janet Reed's husband, Robert James Reed, had been a firefighter for 14
years when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2008. He died ten months
later, leaving behind a wife, two children and many friends in the firefighting
As a firefighter, the committee heard that Robert Reed was always
conscious of safety. He was nevertheless exposed, as all firefighters are, to
toxins which were beyond his ability to control:
In Rob's everyday work where he looked after people in our
communities as a fire fighter, performing road crash rescues, confined space
rescues, dealing with hazardous material spills and other work he was regularly
exposed to toxins and risk. He was a safe and conscientious worker and he wore protective
clothing and used special safety equipment but it did not prevent him from
being exposed to all sorts of toxins and some of that exposure was cumulative
throughout his career.
His widow, Janet Reed, told the committee of the difficult and stressful
months of her husband's ultimately unsuccessful treatment:
The circumstances of Rob's treatment was extremely difficult
emotionally and physically...In July Rob had routine testing 6 months after his
surgery and a CT Scan revealed that the cancer had returned to his lymph nodes
in his chest. Rob was hospitalised and had a biopsy which was complex procedure
because his lung had to be collapsed to perform the biopsy, and the results
confirmed that it was secondary cancer originating from the renal cell cancer.
That diagnosis was dreadful and very stressful. Rob was then referred to an
Oncologist and he commenced a course of chemotherapy treatment.
Robert Reed's family remained hopeful for a positive outcome despite a
serried of hurdles and discouraging results:
Rob's health declined and the cancer spread to his brain. In
September Rob had a course of radiotherapy treatment for 4 weeks to treat the
cancer in his head and chest. I supported Rob through this terrible time and we
were optimistic for a good outcome. Rob wanted to carry on as though it was "business
as usual" to minimise the impact of his illness for everyone else.
Shortly after this treatment, the family went on a short holiday to
spend some quality time together. Within two weeks of the break Robert Reed was
hospitalised with swelling on his brain. Janet Reed told the committee that her
husband died three days later on 29 October 2009, their 21st wedding
On 2 September 2011 Janet Reed attended one of the committee's hearings
to tell the committee of the emotional and financial stress Robert Reed and his
family had to undergo because Robert was forced to return to work for financial
I am here to ask you to carefully go through this presumption
legislation and to consider it, because if this had been available to Rob and
me when he had cancer it would have made our life easier. I am here for Rob.
That is why I am here. And I believe that if Rob had not had to return to work
after he had his operation—he had his kidney removed—after he thought that the
cancer was all gone, I believe there would have been a lot less stress in our
lives and maybe the lower stress would not have accelerated his cancer so
Robert Reed and his family did not have ready access to compensation,
and could not face having to go through lengthy and costly litigation to seek
any sort of payment or support:
There was no compensation readily available to us and it was
not something that we had strength to go and seek money for litigation of any
kind when we were going through such a hard time especially when his cancer
came back six months after he was diagnosed. The last thing that any person
needs to do in that situation is to worry about seeking compensation when you
are already worrying about how you are going to get through the cancer. That is
why I think it is important for me to be here today to let you know that just
having cancer alone is a struggle and the financial part is a bigger struggle
again that you do not have the strength to fight.
The committee thanks Janet Reed for her evidence, and acknowledges how
difficult it must have been for her to attend the public hearing.
The committee also took evidence from Mr Dean Symmans, a firefighter for
26 years. In April 2009 he was diagnosed with leukaemia, and has been
undergoing treatment since that time. He is currently in remission, undergoing
chemotherapy, monthly blood tests and bone marrow aspirate tests every three
He told the committee of his treatment:
Upon diagnosis I was given a 70 per cent survival. Treating
doctors had less than two weeks to use chemotherapy drugs to place me into
remission. Stationed in Albany 400km south of Perth, I was air lifted to Perth
by Royal Flying Doctor to Sir Charles Gardner Hospital where chemotherapy and
intravenous drugs were initiated.
Being away from home for treatment meant that his family had to travel,
at their own cost, to see him:
Over the next 6 months, I received 3 x monthly intravenous
chemotherapy treatments in SCGH hospital. My wife and sons travelled regularly
to visit me at my hospital bedside. This was obviously disruptive to family
life, schooling and an expensive exercise. My wife had to reduce her hours of
work and we relied heavily on friends to assist with childcare and transport.
Mr Symmans had always been healthy, and had accrued many hours of unused
sick leave during his time as a firefighter. He used over 1000 hours of sick
leave during his treatment. He was told that, if he relapsed after treatment,
he would need a stem cell transplant and more time off work.
Having exhausted their resources, Dean Symmans and his family had to
turn to his colleagues for help:
During my illness with leukaemia fire fighters and my Union
rallied to support my family with monetary assistance to help cover the costs
with travel and other expenses. Fire fighters maintained my family car and
house in my absence over the initial 12 months. Albany fire fighters also
travelled 400kms to visit me in hospital. Perth fire fighters sat with me
bedside whilst treatment was administered.
Today, like other cancer sufferers in remission, Mr Symmans now lives
with the fear of a relapse:
My big fear was if I did not stay in remission—which I am at
the moment, thankfully—I would need to have stem cell transplants. If that
takes place it would further chew out sick leave and I would then have to fall
onto a charity that the firefighters themselves have set up. It is a sick and
death benefit fund. I was, as I said, trying to preserve what sick leave I had
left so that I could battle through my treatment.
He told the committee of the financial strain he and his wife faced
during his illness, and the impact on their family and lifestyle:
In my case, being the main breadwinner, it was immense.
During my illness my wife, who at that point was job sharing, had to cut back
on those hours as well. I guess we were very grateful to her employer, who did
the right thing and looked after her—offered her time off and supported her
during my ordeal. I have the privilege here today to say how disappointed I was
in the return-to-work system of my employer. All that was in place as far as
return to work goes was an account-keeping process, which I probably come across
as a little bit bitter with at the moment. All they wanted to know was how many
hours I was working that day. The hours I did not work they were going to take
off my remaining sick leave. That made me livid. I had worked for an
organisation for such a long period of time and that was what they were
offering me. I thought it was pretty ordinary.
I went to the point of contacting my area manager and asking
'How the hell do you work this sort of thing?' It should not be pushed down to
people in fire stations and their area managers to try to make the thing work.
There should be something put in place. That, to me, is part of this process of
getting presumptive legislation up so that I would not have to worry about how
much sick leave I have and my family would be looked after.
Although Dean Symmans believes he was exposed to iridium radiation, he
informed the committee that he did not think he could confidently identify a
single incident which had caused his leukaemia:
In 1991, I believe, I was probably exposed to radiation
caused by iridium. There are ongoing diesel fume concerns at fire stations and
on the fire ground. The leukaemia I have is believed to be caused by an
exposure to a chemical or radiation, and benzene gets the green light there. I
guess there has been an accumulation of carcinogens over 24 years. The more I
look into things, the more I find things. I have only just learnt from a fellow
firefighter that the firefighting foam we have been using over the years can be
a carcinogen. A lady who is doing research into leukaemia contacted me one time
and told me that a chemical called 2-butoxyethanol, I think it is, was in AFFF
foam. I'm not a scientist; I did my own home research come home. She indicated
that there is a carcinogen in firefighting foam. I don't know how I can nail it
down to one specific thing.
Mr Scott Morrison is a leading firefighter with Melbourne's metropolitan
fire brigade. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2001:
My journey with cancer began 10 years ago. In August 2001 I
was admitted into hospital as it was not known what was wrong with me. I was
diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had large cell cancers which are
considered aggressive. That was the start of a battle for my life that would
span six years and is something I am still very vigilant and concerned about on
a daily basis.
On 11 September 2001 Scott Morrison began his chemotherapy treatment:
The date 11th September 2001 is a day of sadness
and shock for firefighters as the New York Fire Department lost more than 300
firefighters in the terrorist attacks. For me that day also marked the first
round of chemotherapy. I had six rounds of chemotherapy ending on the 24th
December 2001. By that stage I had not even told my mother I had cancer as I
thought the chemotherapy would be the end of it.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy did not produce the results Mr Morrison had
hoped for, and he had to undergo further rounds of the treatment. Due to
ongoing chemotherapy and tests his veins collapsed and a fine tube had to be
inserted into his body in order for the chemotherapy to continue:
Then I went back for more tests, and they showed that that
had failed, so I had to have a stem cell transplant in February. In March 2002
I went through the procedure, and I was in hospital for eight days. I was
returned home for four days because those four days could have been my last
four days, but then I went back to the hospital for six weeks—I was in
isolation. I finally got through that, and I was sent back for more tests. They
said, 'You've still got something there near your left kidney,' and I had to go
through six weeks' radiation. In between that, I spoke to the doctor. He said,
'If this doesn't work you're going to palliative care.'
Fortunately, Mr Morrison responded to treatment and in 2002 went into
remission for five years. He was re-diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in
2007, which was successfully treated with radiation therapy. The committee was
shocked to hear that he had to rely on the generosity of his colleagues who
gave up their own leave entitlements to allow him to take the necessary time
I was lucky because my wife had her own dancing school. She
spent the whole time at the hospital when I was there. I had a few hours of
sick leave, but I was off for nearly 18 months. When I did run out of sick
leave I was lucky enough to have great work mates who put their annual leave up
for me so I would not lose money. I cannot thank them enough.
They helped me get through everything. I love those guys.
Ever since I went back to work I have said 'I owe you all that much.' I learnt
to cook and from then on I have cooked lunches every day for the guys. Whatever
I could do for them, if they need something, I would go in the car and do it
for them. Still to this day I thank them for helping me survive what I went
He told the committee of his emotional struggle to survive:
When I was extremely ill there were times when I thought I
was dying. I felt that I was going to die. There were times when it was
extremely painful and I hoped I would die. When I looked at my two sons and my
wife I thought, 'I cannot die yet because I want to enjoy my life with them.'
Paul Henderson began his career as a firefighter in 1976, and has worked
his way to becoming Senior Station Officer. He was diagnosed with testicular
cancer in 2007. His treatment included surgery, radiation therapy and six
courses of chemotherapy. He chose to speak to the committee with the full
knowledge that he would not benefit from the proposed Bill:
I will not personally benefit from this Bill, and neither
will my family. But I feel just as strongly about this as if it was going to
cover me and my family.
Mr Henderson's experience reminded the committee of the benefits,
outlined earlier in this report, of health awareness and early detection:
I found the lump myself though self examination and mentioned
it to my doctor at a health monitoring appointment that is standard practice
for the fire brigade. I was being vigilant because I knew of other firefighter
that had testicular cancer and knew the earlier it was diagnosed the better
chance the person had. I was aware of the link between firefighting and
testicular cancer. I understand that testicular cancer is more commonly a young
man's disease, but I had known older firefighters to be diagnosed with it so I remained
He related his experience with illness and accident insurance:
I started off with 1,900 hours of sick leave. I exhausted all
that sick leave and ended up on a policy that I had when I joined the fire
brigade for sick and accident insurance. I ended up on that for a further two
months. When I was cleared to be operationally fit to resume duties and got
back to the work the insurance company kindly notified me that they no longer
wished to cover me and my policy was cancelled. I appealed and in the wisdom of
sunlight they agreed to keep the policy running but refused to cover cancer. I
did not get any discounts in the policy.
Mr Henderson reflected on whether it would be possible to reduce the
risk posed to firefighters by controlling the materials used in manufacturing.
I think that what a lot of it comes down to is probably the
expansion of globalism. We have ships with containers full of all sorts of
goods going from one country to another. We have ships of convenience now, and
no-one can systematically keep enough records to link all the dots to find a
trend or a commonality in something that is being abused. I think we do have a
system, but I think the system also has some holes in it that other people are
using to drive their goods through. There is the fire load in this room—these
tables and the formaldehyde in them, or what they use in the carpet. You have
already had this discussion in Melbourne. From our point of view, we would like
to see a system that is fail safe, accountable and credible.
I think it comes down to the lowest common denominator. We
want products, and we want them as cheaply as we can get them. To get them
cheaply, we have to manufacture them cheaply, and shortcuts are taken.
Paul Henderson's prognosis is, fortunately, good. Nonetheless, like
other cancer sufferers, he lives with the spectre of cancer even when in
When I did not have cancer I never walked around thinking,
'What's going to happen when I get cancer?' Now that I have had cancer and now
that I am in remission, is that little monkey going to tap me on the back with
'Knock, knock.' 'Who's there?' 'It's cancer.' I live with that.
Ross Lindley joined Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1984. He
served as a firefighter for 26 years before being retired for medical reasons
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2009 after an MRI
scan. He immediately underwent an aggressive chemotherapy regime and had a stem
cell transplant. The treatment itself was so intensive that it necessitated 18
months of recovery.
Ross Lindley told the committee how daunting a task he faced when he
considered seeking workers' compensation:
I actually applied. I was one of the firefighters that Craig
Sidebottom spoke about. The wife and I went in. It is very frightening when
they tell you this is what you have to prove, this is what you have got to do:
you will take it to court; you will have to fight the insurer; if you lose you
are going to have court costs; chances are you are going to lose it because you
have to find this information, which is near impossible. So we let it slide. We
thought it was just too hard—let's get better.
Having given up on pursuing compensation, he later sought to obtain
records of chemicals he might have been exposed to during the course of his
duties. He found that no records existed:
I rang the BA department to try to chase up these records and
was informed that the records do not exist—after 24 hours they get thrown out...They
were all gone. So there were no records of exposures of any kind. I then sent a
letter to the metropolitan fire brigade requesting all the calls I had been to
for my entire 26 years in the job and any exposures that I had been to and so
forth and so forth—all the incidents and whatever. They sent a letter back
saying, 'All we can give you is the reporting system. There are no records on
exposures at all.' That was the brick wall I hit. You just cannot prove which
fire you went to that supposedly started this off. You have nothing to go with.
With that we gave it up—we thought it was just going to be too hard. We can't
prove a thing.
His words echoed previous evidence the committee had received concerning
the difficulty firefighters faced when seeking to access records of exposure,
records which, even when available, are unreliable and often inaccurate.
Mr Lindley used up his sick leave, and, like many others, turned to
That reduces your income down to 70 per cent, which you have
to pay tax on as well. Then I returned to work on light duties because it was
just too much of a financial struggle being on income protection and still
having a mortgage and family commitments, medical expenses and so forth. On
light duties I could only work two-day shifts, so I was taking the night shifts
off as annual leave which I had accumulated while I was crook. Once all that
went I then had to go out on a pension. I was not allowed to return to work as
a firefighter and I took a pension and left. Financially it has been very hard.
I have redrawn on my housing loan, I am paying off a tax debt that I have
incurred from the income protection and at this stage I am not working. I am
just plodding along trying to make ends meet.
The community holds a deep respect and gratitude for those who serve to
protect and assist. If we are honest, however, along with this respect and
gratitude comes a generous dose of expectation. We expect firefighters to come
to our assistance when our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses are ablaze.
We expect that a firefighter will enter a burning building when every human
instinct tells us to leave. We expect they will search for those trapped inside
and bring them out alive. We expect them to do what they can to minimise loss
of life and damage to property. While everyone else is fleeing danger, it is
the firefighter's duty to tackle it head-on, to enter an extreme and dangerous
environment, armed with the best protective gear available.
It is a duty firefighters take seriously, aware of the inherent risks to
their own health and safety. This awareness on their part does not mitigate the
community's responsibility towards them.
The committee has carefully examined the large amount of evidence with
which it has been presented. Study after study has pointed to a higher risk of
cancer for firefighters than the general population. Science has confirmed what
firefighters suspected for decades: that a disproportionate number of them in
the prime of their lives are brought down with illnesses usually reserved for
the old and the infirm.
The committee recognises that cancer is an illness that touches many
fit, healthy people in the non-firefighter population as well. In many cases it
is unpredictable and incomprehensible, due to genetics or factors we do not yet
understand. But when the science tells us that a particular group of people who
are routinely exposed through their service to the community to known
carcinogens are at higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, then the response
The committee recognises that when a person spends their professional
career inhaling and absorbing known—and probably some as yet
unknown—carcinogens in the course of public service, it is the moral duty of
the community to enable them to seek compensation should they fall ill as a
consequence. For this reason the committee believes this Bill needs to be
passed after being improved upon through incorporation of the committee's
The committee has conducted its analysis in the hope that similar
legislation will be introduced across state jurisdictions in future as part of
the harmonisation of workers' compensation laws. If this Bill is passed, the
committee encourages state jurisdictions to engage in a dialogue which will eventually
see a positive, and fair, outcome for firefighters across Australia.
4.43 The committee recommends that this Bill be passed subject to the foregoing
Senator Gavin Marshall
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