A procession of over 500 professional firefighters from across the province solemnly paraded through downtown Victoria to remember those who have paid the ultimate price during their service.
The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Association held its sixth biennial memorial service at the south lawn of the legislature Monday (March 6) to honour the 48 members – including Greater Victoria’s Kenneth Gill (Oak Bay Fire Department), Rick Shumka (Saanich Fire Department) and Forrest Owens (Central Saanich Fire Department) – who lost their lives over the past four years due to injuries and illnesses sustained in the line of duty.
Held for the first time since 2019, members taking part in the service did not wear their usual turnout gear because of concern over cancer-causing chemicals found embedded in much of it.
“We’re facing the real challenge that our very own protective gear is killing us,” said Gord Ditchburn, president of the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Association. “Out of the 48, probably in excess of 40 died from cancer.”
The carcinogenic chemicals, called PFAs, are found in the liner of the gear and have been linked to increased risk of cancers including prostate, kidney and testicular.
According to Ditchburn, cancer is the leading cause of death amongst firefighters.
“Study after study identifies firefighters at a higher rate of contracting cancer — higher than the general public,” said Ditchburn.
Premier David Eby, legislature speaker Raj Chouhan and other members of the legislative assembly also paid their respects to the the 48 fallen B.C. firefighters.
“Our government has made great strides to ensure firefighters have better access to the compensation and mental health services they need, but we know there is still more work to be done,” said Eby.
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