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B.C. Greens introduce bill to better protect firefighters

March 14, 2024
   7 min read
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For immediate release

March 14, 2024

VICTORIA, B.C. – Today, in a significant move to prioritize the safety and well-being of firefighters in British Columbia, Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands introduced the Firefighter Protection Act, 2024 which would mitigate the risks associated with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure in firefighting operations.

The growing concern over cancer risks linked to firefighting protective gear has prompted global legislative actions. In British Columbia, this is limited to post-exposure support, and doesn’t prevent risk through material safety regulation.

“Firefighters face hidden dangers from ‘forever chemicals,’ including flame retardants and PFAS in foam, which threaten their well-being long after the fires are out,” said MLA Olsen. “It’s time we prevent harm with better gear regulations. It’s our job to protect crews from these unseen dangers, just as they protect us.”

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) has taken a leading role by announcing the phasing out of PFAS-containing firefighting gear, a significant step in preventing cancer among firefighters. However, ensuring equitable access to protective gear across all departments is integral to avoid a two-tier system, where fire services in larger communities have the resources to access PFAS-free protective gear, while smaller, rural fire services may not. The province needs to step up and support everyone willing to join a fire service and put themselves at risk.

“We recognize the cost increase we create through this private members bill,” continued MLA Olsen, “We need to ensure fire services have the resources they need to protect their members so it is incumbent on the provincial government to put a grant program in place to help those services as is needed. It is inappropriate for the province to defend inaction by suggesting this program may cost too much, especially after spending 90 billion dollars in the BC Budget.

“Last week, members of the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Association met with all Members of the Legislative Assembly to advocate for key priorities. Our colleagues in the BC United Caucus responded to their advocacy with several proposals, which we support.”

The Firefighter Protection Act reaffirms British Columbia’s leadership in promoting occupational health and safety standards and serves as a model for jurisdictions worldwide.

Quote:

Todd Schierling, President, BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Association

“The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Association appreciates that the issue of firefighter safety is being raised through this private members bill, and the BCPFFA will continue to advocate and work with the Province to safeguard our firefighters from dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ found in outdated protective gear.”

Quick Facts:

  • The Firefighter Protection Act bill addresses several key areas of concern: prohibition of harmful materials, compliance, enforcement, and penalties.
  • The implementation timeline considers the need for industry adaptation. Collaboration with scientific and industry experts is emphasized to transition to safer materials effectively.
  • At the national level, Canada adheres to various standards for personal protective equipment (PPE), including NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards, which many Canadian fire departments follow. These standards include specifications for the safety and performance of firefighting gear, but they are not legislation and do not specifically address eliminating carcinogenic materials.

Background:

  • In 2005 the BC Government implemented the presumptive cancer provision as a crucial step, but further safety protocols are essential to reduce hazards and negative impacts of firefighting. The first reading of the Worker’s Compensation Amendment Act recognized 7 cancers as occupational diseases for fire fighters {Brain, Bladder, Colorectal, Kidney, Ureter, Primary non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and primary leukaemia, Testicular}. Since then, the following have been added as presumptive illnesses/diseases: 2008 Lung cancer; 2011 Esophageal cancer; 2014 Heart Disease; 2017 Breast, Prostate, Myeloma; 2018 Occupational Stress Injuries; 2022 Cervical, Ovarian, Penile, Pancreatic, Thyroid and reductions in accumulative periods in Testicular, Colorectal, Esophageal.
  • PFAS is a category of manufactured chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other diseases. In August 2022, the IAFF alerted their members of the potential health risks, and they continue to draw attention to the need for PFAS-free turnout gear.
  • The Canadian federal government has been undertaking research regarding the impacts of PFAS. In May 2023, the federal government released a Draft Report and Risk Management Report  – which includes a recommendation for PFAS, as a class of substances, to be added to the Toxic Substances List. If this step is taken, the government would need to proceed with additional regulatory measures – including efforts to minimize environmental and human exposure to PFAS.
  • Despite PFAS-free firefighting foam being widely available and used, many jurisdictions in B.C. still use foam containing PFAS – often unknowingly. There is no regulation on which fire departments can use foams containing PFAS, nor an accompanying code of best practice.
  • Some departments in BC have adopted their own codes of practice, which include: a quarantine zone when returning from a call, immediate showering, and immediate gear washing. However these safety measures are only practiced in some parts of the province, as there is no mandate..
  • The BCPFFA is hoping to see significant investments in developing and acquiring PFAS-free turnout gear, and a complete switch to non-PFAS foam for fire response.
  • The IAFF will be pushing the federal government in Ottawa this April to address the heightened cancer risk faced by firefighters. Delegates will advocate to ban the manufacture, import and use of PFAS and to implement other measures to protect fire fighters, the environment and all Canadians from these dangerous chemicals.

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Media contacts:

JoJo Beattie
Press Secretary
B.C. Green Caucus
+1 250-882-6187 | jojo.beattie@leg.bc.ca

Brian Catinus, Secretary-Treasurer
BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Association
+1 604-436-2053 | brian@bcpffa.org

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