Lawyers acting for about 150 current and former firefighters connected to the CFA’s Fiskville training centre in Victoria have welcomed a report confirming the facility exposed them to dangerous chemicals.
Slater and Gordon said it was now vital that the CFA and State Government act swiftly to ensure its clients and others who suffered physical harm after the exposures and their families receive the compensation and assistance they deserve.
About one third of the firm’s Fiskville clients have been diagnosed with cancer while the remainder have a range of conditions including respiratory or auto-immune conditions.
Slater and Gordon class actions lawyer Andrew Baker said today’s release of the report titled Fiskville: Understanding the Past to Inform the Future was a significant milestone for those exposed to chemicals at the facility.
“It has confirmed the fears held by these people for a long time: that they were exposed to dangerous chemicals while at Fiskville and that that exposure is causing them harm,” Mr Baker said.
“In fulfilling what they saw as their duty to keep Victorian communities safe, these people have made enormous personal sacrifices and it is now up to the system that let them down to make things right.”
Mr Baker called on the Baillieu Government to immediately introduce presumptive legislation that would bring Victorian firefighters’ rights into line with their colleagues on the Commonwealth Government’s payroll.
Under the Commonwealth’s presumptive legislation, enacted last year, a Commonwealth firefighter who contracts one of 12 prescribed cancers is able to claim compensation without the need to establish causation.
“If a Commonwealth firefighter working at Melbourne Airport developed a prescribed cancer, he or she would automatically be entitled to claim under the Federal compensation scheme whereas that firefighter’s state-employed MFB colleague from up the road in Sunshine has to prove that their job caused the illness,” Mr Baker said.
“Until this discrepancy is addressed, Victorian firefighters will continue to be left unprotected against the risks they face every day as part of their jobs and if they develop a medical condition they will more often than not be forced to take their chances with litigation in the courts.”
Mr Baker said a scheme to expedite compensation was vital because current Victorian laws mean claims don’t automatically pass to loved ones when a claimant dies before their matter is resolved.
“Many of these people have terminal conditions and will regrettably not last the year so we need a system that ensures these matters are resolved as quickly and fairly as possible. Otherwise the current law serves as an incentive to drag out litigation because a delay is as good as a refusal in cases of terminal conditions.”
“Ordinary members of the Victorian community, having heard about this report, will expect that the CFA and the government will urgently move to compensate these people.”
Mr Baker said the firm was presently weighing up litigation options on behalf of its clients and that the chosen course of action would depend heavily on the detail of the report, as well as the precise circumstances being faced by potential claimants.
“A class action is certainly one of the potential mechanisms under consideration, as are individual test cases run to represent the circumstances of various groups of claimants,” he said.
“Ideally, though, the powers that be will recognise that everyone’s interests are best served by a non-litigated, efficient dispute-resolution scheme.”