MUDDY HELL! Firefighter Rob speaks out

WHEN Rob Vaughan joined the rural fire brigade 11 years ago, he did not expect to be scrounging through thick, smelly, toxic mud for a set of much-loved war medals belonging to a stranger.

He never found those medals - lost when Cyclone Oswald caused flooding chaos across the Mundubbera and Gayndah regions in 2013 - but he did find an intense desire to keep on going despite the worst nature could throw at him.

"We went into people's homes and basically pulled out all their worldly possessions and piled them into huge rubbish heaps while they watched and thanked us," the 44-year-old Gympie hospital sonographer said.

"The work was strenuous and heartbreaking.

"The mud that covered everything was toxic, the fridges and pantries were full of rotten food, in one house the people left in such a hurry that there was still food in bowls and plates on the table.

"Nearly a third of the crews got very sick from the mud and were hospitalised."

Sickness is a real risk for firefighters - research shows they are more likely to get cancer than non-firefighters.

Despite this, Mr Vaughan and the rest of the Gympie-Fraser Coast region's 2038 unpaid smokeys will continue to respond to natural disasters.

The local yellow army attended 1402 fires in the past 12 months.

Mr Vaughan, a father of one, is among more than 36,000 volunteer Queensland firies lobbying Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt to rethink a small clause in the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill that was introduced to Parliament earlier this month.

The clause means unpaid firefighters will have to attend 150 fires over five years before they are eligible for dormant or hidden fire-related cancer compensation.

THEY will only have 10 years to make a claim.

Their paid colleagues have lifetime cover for cancer and they will only have to attend one fire to be eligible for compensation.

"Having timely compensation for illness contracted through firefighting means my family won't suffer because I volunteer to help my community," Mr Vaughan said.

"Thousands of men and women volunteer in Queensland to help their communities, they expose themselves to all different dangers in fire, flood, storm and accidents so that people can feel safe and assisted in times of need.

"I would like to think that the government will step up to help those volunteers when they need it, just like we step up to help the community."

Mr Pitt said the amendment was not about saving money.

"It's about ensuring sick firefighters who contract potentially deadly illnesses through their work receive the compensation they deserve in a timely and equitable fashion," he said.

"The government is open to considering the views that key stakeholders like the Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland have.

"This includes any additional data or research that volunteers have on their exposure risk relative to permanent and auxiliary firefighters."

The government is also considering the LNP's Protecting Firefighters Bill, which would have all firies needing to only attend one blaze to earn compensation.

Emergency services shadow minister Jarrod Bleijie said Mr Pitt's proposal was "unfair".

"All firefighters should receive the same protection, irrespective of pay status or the colour of the fire engine," Mr Bleijie said.

 

- SHERELE MOODY

AT A GLANCE

There are 2038 volunteer firefighters in the Gympie- Fraser Coast region.

In the past 12 months they attended 1402 fires.

The State Government wants to change the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to ensure paid and volunteer firefighters have access to late-onset cancers caused during their duties.

To be eligible, volunteer firefighters will have to attend 150 fires in five years and they will only have 10 years to claim compensation.

Paid firefighters have only to attend one fire and there will be no time limit on their claim.

Gympie Times


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