FENZ refuses to acknowledge Firefighters’ occupational cancer

It is internationally accepted that firefighters contract specific cancers due to exposures to carcinogens when firefighting.

Firefighters cannot be fully protected as their firefighting uniform must breathe to prevent the firefighter was perishing with metabolic heat build-up.

For many years FENZ has acknowledged that firefighters are exposed to carcinogens and have an increased risk of contracting specified cancers.

FENZ is refusing to acknowledge this increased risk of cancer and incidence of cancer in the firefighters’ employment agreement.

FENZ is an accredited ACC employer and therefore has the ability to accept occupational cancer claims but are still refusing some claims.

FENZ worked with ACC to instead put all claims before an ACC toxicology panel and did so without consulting the firefighters. That has created another process delaying claims and increasing stress and costs.

The NZPFU supports firefighters through this process including taking costly and lengthy reviews when firefighter cancers have been rejected. The firefighter and their family should be concentrating on treatment and precious family time but instead are having to research the fires they attended to put a case together. Sadly, the firefighter does not always survive long enough to see whether their occupational cancer claim is accepted and they die not knowing their family will be compensated.

Brent’s story: Firefighter, Invercargill

This is Invercargill Senior Firefighter Brent Wilson last year after surgery for thyroid cancer. He has served as a career firefighter for more than 25 years and for 5 years as a volunteer firefighter before that. Credible and accepted research has shown that exposures to fire retardants, PFAS firefighting foams and radio waves are all linked to thyroid cancer. Despite this, FENZ denied his claim of occupational cancer and the NZPFU has ensured Brent has legal expertise fighting for his ACC cover.

Brent is just one of the many career firefighters that the NZPFU has had to assist to have their occupational cancer recognised so that they get the treatment and compensation they would for any other work-related injury.

Fire and Emergency is refusing the NZPFU’s claim to acknowledge firefighters’ occupational cancer in the collective bargaining. FENZ is also refusing to implement a comprehensive medical testing scheme that would ensure firefighter cancer is identified early.

Despite being some of the fittest and healthiest workers, firefighters have 5 times the usual risk of contracting specific cancers due to exposures to a cocktail of carcinogens at structure fires. A house fire can be the most deadliest with more than 70,000 toxins combusting including the increasing use of plastics and human-made construction materials. Ironically, the fire retardants required in manufacturing on appliances and building products are some of the most deadly toxins for firefighters. Firefighters can never be fully protected as they absorb the toxic smoke through their skin. Despite the improvements in firefighter uniform, breathing apparatus and decontamination processes, the cases of occupational cancer amongst career firefighters continue to rise.