Disability rules kibosh plan to help firefighter with cancer

REGINA – When a local firefighter was diagnosed with cancer, his colleagues didn’t think twice. They rallied around Tanner Brotzel and began picking up his shifts to ensure he’d have the money to get by.

But months after their good-deed started, administration suddenly put a stop to their plans.

The firefighters were blind-sided.

“We get a memo from the chief saying that this would no longer be happening. All replacements are now denied,” said the President of the Regina Professional Firefighters’ Association, Brian Seidlik. “It’s been six months that this has been going on. Why is this an issue now?”

Replacements are a right given to firefighters in their collective agreement.

Seidlik said it’s common practice, and not just at the fire hall.

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Councillor Terry Hincks knows what it’s like to battle cancer, and said he can relate to Brotzel.

“When you’re on chemo it’s a really tough thing,” said Hincks.

His position has been covered by colleagues, including the mayor, for the last two and a half years as he battles colorectal cancer.

“For them to cover for Tanner is a wonderful thing to do and I really wish the bureaucracy would just stay out of it,” Hincks said. “Sometimes you have to look around the rules and just do what’s right.”

According to the union, the firefighters’ contract doesn’t stipulate exactly how long replacements can be used for, nor under exactly what circumstances.

“Despite the language in the collective agreement, there’s a commonly accepted practice that stood for years and years and years, where the shift trades in replacement are used for very short term: one, two or three shifts,” said Fire Chief Ernie Polsom.

The chief said he made the decision to deny replacements based on concern for Brotzel’s future.

“It completely separates Tanner from the benefits program and has the potential to permanently exclude him, based on this diagnosis, from any future claims on long term disability,” he explained.

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Long term disability would provide Brotzel with about 65 per cent of his normal salary, but he was supposed to apply for it within a month of being diagnosed with cancer.

Now, Brotzel is waiting for that long term disability to kick in. He’s being forced to use whatever sick time or vacation he has left. His union, however, is moving full steam ahead.

“We will be grieving this decision and taking legal action,” said Seidlik.

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