After expanding presumptive coverage for the firefighters who fought the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, Alberta’s government has taken the next step to improve cancer coverage for all firefighters. Firefighters are at greater risks for certain cancers, and Alberta firefighters will now receive presumptive coverage for 20 different cancers. In addition, based on scientific evidence, Alberta’s government has reduced the exposure time requirement for a cancer already on the list.

By expanding the list of cancers covered, firefighter Workers’ Compensation Board cancer claims will be handled faster for these 20 cancers to ensure firefighters get the coverage they deserve sooner. Alberta’s government will continue to follow the evidence and expand this list to maintain the province’s leadership in Canada.

“Firefighters put themselves at great risk to protect Albertans’ lives and property and deserve to be compensated for their sacrifices. More cancer presumptions help firefighters and their families receive the benefits and support they need with fewer delays and hurdles. Alberta was one of the first provinces to provide these presumptions, and I am proud we are leading the nation today.”

Brian Jean, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development

The Firefighters’ Primary Site Cancer Regulation now includes pancreatic, thyroid, mesothelioma and soft tissue sarcoma cancers as eligible for workers’ compensation presumptions. The existing minimum exposure period for colorectal cancer is reduced to 15 years from 20. With 20 cancers on its presumption list, Alberta has listed more than any other province or territory and is the only Canadian jurisdiction that includes soft tissue sarcoma.

“Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters in North America. Research shows the profession of firefighting is carcinogenic to humans. When buildings burn, it is a toxic soup of chemicals. Firefighters and their families greatly appreciate the Government of Alberta adding these needed WCB coverages. Alberta is now leading Canada again in the number of presumptive cancers covered.”

Matt Osborne, president, Alberta Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association

“We commend Alberta’s government for adding pancreatic cancer to the workers’ compensation presumption list for firefighters. This decision will provide much-needed support for firefighters and their families who are impacted by this devastating disease. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the ministry and Alberta Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association to raise awareness and improve outcomes for those affected by pancreatic cancer.”

Michelle Capobianco, chief executive officer, Pancreatic Cancer Canada

“These steps are of significant importance in showing appreciation for firefighters in Alberta. The addition of four new cancers to the workers' compensation presumption list and a reduction of the minimum exposure period for an existing cancer on the list is a positive step towards ensuring that firefighters and their families receive the support they need recognizing the dangers they may face every day. This decision recognizes the unique risks that firefighters face in their line of work and shows a commitment to their well-being.”

Randy Schroeder, president, Alberta Fire Chiefs Association

The regulation applies to full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters employed by a municipality or Metis Settlement who are exposed to fire scene hazards, excluding forest fires.

Alberta’s government is committed to providing essential supports and services to ensure healthy and safe workplaces across the province. The province continues to work with firefighter organizations and look at new research regarding links between cancer risks and firefighting. A recent amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act eliminates the minimum exposure periods for cancers listed in the regulation for firefighters who fought the Fort McMurray wildfire between May 1 and June 1, 2016.

Quick facts

  • These changes make the claim process easier for firefighters by eliminating the steps required to link a cancer diagnosis to the occupation.

  • The Firefighters’ Primary Site Cancer Regulation came into effect in 2003.

  • The minimum exposure period for pancreatic and thyroid cancers is 10 years, while it is 15 years for mesothelioma and soft tissue sarcoma.

  • Between 2017 and 2022, there were 177 workers’ compensation claims by firefighters for cancers listed in the regulation. The Workers’ Compensation Board accepted 84 per cent of these claims.

  • There are more than 14,000 firefighters in Alberta, about 80 per cent of whom are volunteers.

  • Firefighters are at higher risk for certain cancers because they frequently are exposed to carcinogens, particularly when fighting a structural fire. Many building materials release carcinogens when burning.

  • Frequent exposure to these hazards over time has been linked to certain cancers.