One of every five Abbotsford firefighters missed an extended period of work due to illness or injury last year, according to figures contained in a new plan for the city’s fire/rescue service.
More than 20 career firefighters missed more than 100 hours of work last year, but many were away for much longer, according to the report. The number of sick or injured firefighters, and the time they missed, has climbed dramatically over the last four years. In 2014, 11 firefighters missed less than 2,000 combined hours due to long-term injury or illness.
Chief Don Beer told The News that there are various reasons for time missed, and not all are directly related to work. The combination of an aging workforce and a rising awareness about the need to ensure workers get proper treatment both for physical injuries and mental illness is behind at least some of the increase, Beer said.
“They are things we didn’t necessarily really account for or pay close attention to in the past,” he said. He added that it’s important to ensure that firefighters don’t rush back to work, only to injure themselves again.
“I want to make sure that when they come back to work, they come back in the way they can be productive and it not be a short-lived thing.”
For privacy reasons, he said he couldn’t get into details about the types of injuries, including the extent that post-traumatic stress disorder plays in missed time.
But he added that members are also more aware of indicators of mental illness or injury.
“Today, we have a better education and knowledge of what mental health and post-traumatic stress are in our world, and I think people are acknowledging it and getting help so they come back to work healthy.”
The report shows firefighters who had a long-term illness or injury missed more than 6,500 total hours of work – an average of around 300 hours per injured or ill member.
The increase in long-term absences has an effect on the budget of the fire service, Beer noted, with medical leaves covered in firefighters’ contracts, but with manpower needed to fill in for those who are off sick or injured.