Firefighters from across British Columbia march in support of their fallen on Monday March 6 at the B.C. Fallen Fire Fighters’ Memorial in Victoria. Arnold Lim / Black Press photos

Trail firefighter remembered at memorial

Three firefighters from Local 941 in Trail joined hundreds of brethren from across British Columbia to honour fallen comrades.

Three firefighters from Local 941 in Trail joined hundreds of brethren from across British Columbia on Monday in Victoria to honour fallen comrades.

The long procession of firefighters moved past the Parliament Buildings, under extended fire truck ladders and past streets lined with supporters for a special memorial by the B.C. Professional Firefighters Association.

For Trail’s Lee De Pellegrin, Greg Ferraby and Rick Morris, the event took on an extra meaning as a local member Ken Cook was one of 14 names called out in remembrance at the B.C. Fallen Fire Fighters’ Memorial.

Cook, who passed away in March, 1998, was a 30-year member of the Trail Fire Department. He retired in 1983 but the impact of his duty led to colon cancer, which eventually claimed his life.

Colon cancer is one of the many cancers on the presumption list for B.C. firefighters, which made Cook’s death one in the line of duty.

Morris said he marched with the main group of firefighters while De Pellegrin and Ferraby sat with the Cook family including Ken’s wife Joyce. They assisted in presenting the family with the memorial flag.

“It is an overwhelming experience,” admitted Morris. “One we are all extremely proud to be a part of. Nothing is more humbling than honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

This year’s list of names of firefighters from across the province, included Surrey’s Ernie Dombrowski.

“(My husband) sacrificed his life for everyone, (but) he just loved his job and he didn’t need the recognition, this is over and above,” said Gena Dombrowski who lost her husband Ernie in 2015. “He was just happy helping people and making sure kids were safe and taken care of.”

Suffering from PTSD, Ernie took his own life after 10 years on the job, leaving a wife and a 13-year-old son behind.

“Everyday it’s not only fire calls, they are going to motor vehicle accidents and tragedies that we only see on the news and we don’t know what (firefighters) go through,” Dombrowski said. “Especially in my husband’s case, he really took it to heart and had challenges dealing with it.”

Firefighters are also more likely to get cancer, or suffer from heart failure and Mike Rispin of the Nanaimo Professional Firefighters said he drove down the Malahat in support of “the brotherhood,” and all other families affected by the loss of one of their own.

“It doesn’t matter where you are from, anywhere in North America, probably anywhere in the world, a firefighter is a firefighter and you can go to a firehall anywhere and you will be treated and respected like a brother,” he said. “We are here not only for our own members but for other families and to support them as well.”

Dombrowski received a flag in her husband’s honour and clutched it to her heart following the ceremony.

(Today is) bitter sweet, this is wonderful, I miss my husband my son doesn’t have a father anymore but he loved firefighting and they are great men and women,” she said. “We just have to remember to take care of them like they take care of us.”

Also on Monday, the British Columbia government is adding three types of cancer to those that could be considered occupational diseases suffered by firefighters.

A release from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training says breast cancer, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma will be added to the Firefighters Occupational Disease Regulation under the Workers Compensation Act.

Firefighters developing those diseases after a certain period of time on the job would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove the cancer is work-related.

The province says it first recognized certain cancers as occupational diseases for firefighters in 2005.

A list of those cancers has now grown to 10 and includes brain, bladder and testicular cancer, as well as leukemia.

The release from the ministry says in 2014, heart disease and heart injury were also restored as illnesses presumed to be conditions developed by firefighters.

“Firefighters are exposed to toxic environments that greatly contribute to increased cancer risks, more than double that of the general population,” says B.C. Professional Firefighters Association president and board chairman Gord Ditchburn.

Members across B.C. are expected to benefit from the additional coverage, as will their families who Ditchburn says are often the ones who must navigate the coverage process with WorkSafeBC.

With files from Black Press and Canadian Press

With files from Black Press and Canadian Press

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