When Tanner Brotzel was diagnosed with cancer in December, his fellow firefighters rallied to his side and started volunteering to fill his shifts, but now Regina Fire and Protective Services is forcing them to stop.
Brian Seidlik is the president of the Regina Professional Fire Fighters Association. He joined Jill Slater and Dave Arnold on News Talk Radio’s Mainstreet to discuss the situation Wednesday afternoon.
He said the young guys volunteered to fill Brotzel’s shifts so he wouldn’t have to worry about money while he was battling cancer.
“Basically long-term disability is an insurance policy if you don’t have any other options. It’s 65 per cent of your wage which is still taxable and then you still have some benefits that you have to cover out of that 65 per cent,” Seidlik said. “So all in all, you’re probably looking at half your wage to live on while you’re battling cancer in Tanner’s case.”
He said the firefighters are very upset with the administration’s decision, saying this can’t possibly be considered an abuse of the system. He doesn’t see why there would be a problem with having a professional firefighter volunteer to fill in for Brotzel while the fire department continues to pay him for those hours.
Seidlik says morale is at an all-time low among the younger and older generations of firefighters.
“One guy that I started with, his quote was ‘in the 32 years that I have been a firefighter, I am now ashamed to say that I’m a firefighter for the actions the city has taken,” he said.
Fire Chief Ernie Polsom said the administration only discovered this situation two weeks ago and alerted the human resource department because he had significant concerns.
“Despite the fact that I have absolutely no doubt it was done with the very best of intentions, what they did with this covering was the employer and our benefit provider had no idea that the firefighter was ill so they missed some really critical things,” he said.
Polsom said because this firefighter didn’t apply for long-term disability within 30 days of his cancer diagnosis, he could be excluded from disability benefits for life on that diagnosis.
“If the treatment didn’t go well or if there was a recurrence in a few years or any other number of reasons that cancer could recur, he would not be eligible for any coverage and I simply could not allow that to continue without addressing it,” he said.
The fire chief said the city has worked with the disability benefit provider to waive the deadline rule for now and to reinstate the process for Brotzel’s application.
“We recognize that he received extremely bad direction from whoever was guiding his process,” Polsom said. “Keeping in mind this is a young man who was facing life and death decisions, a horrendous medical diagnosis, and one would expect that he would get good guidance from his union and his supervisors and apparently that didn’t happen.”
In response to the question of a 65 per cent coverage package for long-term disability, Polsom pointed out that the firefighters should remember those benefits were part of a fair contract negotiation process with the union.
Seidlik says Brotzel has applied for long term disability benefits. He may also be returning to work on light duties. Last week, Brotzel said he was overwhelmed by the support of his fellow firefighters, and he couldn’t wait to get back to work. He still has to undergo one more round of radiation therapy in August.
A Regina city councilor who can relate personally to Brotzel’s experience is now offering his support to the firefighters who want to fill his shifts. Terry Hinks is also battling cancer. In a conversation with a News Talk Radio reporter, he said his fellow council members and real estate co-workers have been covering for him while he has been sick. He doesn’t see why firefighters can’t be allowed to do the same thing.