The Ontario Government has announced it will lower fire fighters’ required years of service for automatic esophageal cancer coverage from 25 to 15 years, which will significantly expand the number of those covered under the province’s presumptive legislation.
The announcement was made Nov. 8 by Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Minister David Piccini at a firehall in Welland, the Niagara Region city where Local 481 member Craig Bowman worked for 20 years before succumbing to esophageal cancer in May at the age of 47.
Because he did not meet the years of service required under Ontario’s presumptive legislation, Bowman did not qualify for automatic compensation through Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and his initial compensation claim was denied.
The new 15-year latency period, retroactive to 1960, reclassifies Bowman’s cancer-related death as officially occurring in the line of duty. His wife Allison, daughter Lexi, and son Colin now qualify for compensation through WSIB. In addition, his family is now eligible for benefits under the federal Memorial Grant Program for First Responders, which was implemented in 2018 following a tenacious 25-year lobby by the IAFF.
The announcement, delivered alongside leaders from the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), members of Welland Local 481, and Bowman’s widow Allison, daughter Lexi, and son Colin, directly reflects the OPFFA’s relentless advocacy following Bowman’s sacrifice.
“Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer that is rarely detected until the cancer is in its advanced stage. Recent research has shown that the appropriate latency period should be 15 years,” OPFFA President Greg Horton told those gathered.
“We thank Ontario’s elected leaders for recognizing that the legislation requires updating to ensure that fire fighters, such as Welland Captain Craig Bowman, don’t slip through the cracks, and that they and their families receive fair treatment should they become ill, disabled or die because of their occupation and service to the public.”
Piccini thanked all fire fighters for their service and thanked Horton, the OPFFA, and Welland fire fighters for their advocacy on esophageal cancer coverage. He also thanked Allison Bowman for her advocacy.
“Thank you for telling Captain Bowman’s story to all of us,” Piccini said to her. “Captain Bowman lived a life of purpose. And fire fighters will, thanks to his leadership, forever be protected in the line of duty. And I want to thank the Bowman family for being here today.”
Lexi Bowman spoke eloquently about the toll cancer has taken on those in the firefighting profession, and the need to continue advocating on their behalf. “When the alarm goes off, these fire fighters put themselves into harm’s way, every day, without a second thought. We owe it to them and to their families to ensure their safety, and when needed, compensation and recognition when making the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.
“Today, the Ontario Government is sending a message that the health and safety of these first responders is a priority. I will continue to be my father’s voice in advocating for change and educating fire fighters on cancer prevention. On behalf of our family, my dad, our firefighting family, and all fire fighters, thank you to the Government of Ontario for hearing our voices.”
Ontario currently recognizes 19 cancers as occupational among fire fighters for the purpose of workers’ compensation benefits, with coverage retroactive to 1960. The province also recognizes heart injury and post-traumatic stress.
The province also announced a proposal to support injured workers by enabling “super indexing” increases to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits above the annual rate of inflation.