By Tim Fernandez, ABC:
After calling time on a firefighting career spanning nearly 40 years, Bob McGowan was looking forward to retiring on the New South Wales south coast.
But just six months later a routine heart scan uncovered a life-changing illness.
“My heart was fine, which was great, but the cardiologist said, ‘You’ve got lung cancer’,” he said.
The former Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) superintendent was aware of the slim odds of a full recovery and told his family to prepare for the worst.
Mr McGowan faced many dangers during his career, but believed the largest factor behind his illness was the fumes coming out the back of his truck.
“The biggest cause of lung cancer is obviously cigarette smoking and I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, and the second biggest cause is diesel exhaust particulate,” he said.
“For 38 years, I worked in fire stations and our fire trucks were diesel-powered. We had no mitigation, no engineered solutions. We just breathed diesel exhaust. Some of the stations start [trucks] up to 30 times a day and there are no extraction systems.”
Despite his belief firefighting contributed to the illness, Mr McGowan had to cover medical bills out of his own pocket.
There are 12 cancers common among firefighters that are recognised in NSW under presumptive legislation, but lung cancer is not one of them.
The Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) is calling on the NSW government to expand the list of medical conditions covered under workers compensation.
This would add nine additional cancers to the list, including cervical and ovarian cancer — reflecting the growing number of female firefighters.
Women represent approximately 10 per cent of full-time firefighters in NSW, up from just 3.5 per cent a decade ago.
An audit by the FBEU revealed that half of NSW’s 335 fire stations did not have extraction fans in the engine bay, and a third did not have appropriate clean and dirty areas.
The audit also found more than half of the stations did not have separate changing rooms for women.
Read the full story here.