8 Aug 2021

ACC cover for volunteer firefighters would be unfair, govt says

3:27 pm on 8 August 2021

The widow of a firefighter has been stymied in her efforts to get easier ACC cover for fire crew, with the government saying this would be unfair to others.

No caption

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Firefighters, including volunteers, are campaigning for easier access to compensation if they get cancer. Cherie Flintoff, whose husband Brett How died of cancer in 2018, has told the government this is only fair, and it must include volunteer firefighters.

"Volunteer firefighters are filling what is essentially a government role and, in the process, are saving the country billions of dollars by doing so without pay," she wrote to ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni.

"'Cheaping out' on covering them for the specific cancer risks they face in doing this seems churlish, unkind and ungrateful."

However, Sepuloni replied that this would not be fair on other occupations or volunteers.

She said she was committed to keeping ACC fair and financially sustainable.

"Providing cover for one group of volunteers and not for the remaining volunteer population would be misaligned with the scheme's purpose to provide fair cover."

ACC introduced a new three-step test last year to assess if a professional firefighter's illness is work-related, but not for volunteers.

Flintoff said this did not go far enough, and it should be presumed - given the toxins they are exposed to - if a firefighter gets cancer, it is work related, so they don't have to jump through hoops to get compensation.

This would be "recognition of the greatly increased risk that they face", she told the Minister.

Sepuloni said presumptive cover was not provided for specific occupation groups "as this would introduce fairness issues" across occupations.

Her office said she expected to get advice in two to three months on updating a list of work-related diseases that ACC covers, called Schedule 2.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs