ROSS Lindley hasn't worked as a firefighter for four years, since he discovered he had incurable multiple myeloma.
"It financially destroys you," the 53-year-old firefighter said. "My cancer … is one that you would get at 70 or 80 years of age, but I got it at 49."
Six of the 36 firefighters he graduated with in 1984 have also been diagnosed with cancer. It was a risk Mr Lindley never considered until he was diagnosed in 2009.
After spending most of his career in Oakleigh, and finally at Wheelers Hill, he retired early to use his pension to cover the cost of treatment. He didn't seek compensation initially believing it to be too hard, but has since had a WorkCover claim accepted.
It's too late. He has spent thousands of dollars, and missed out of years of work, because of his cancer.
His entitlements and his super, which he has been using while getting treatment, will not be paid back.
He is now part of a group of firefighters seeking a change in the law to ensure fair compensation.
Volunteer and career firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing smoke and fumes that seep through the skin, said Mr Lindley. The cancers take so long to be detected that it's impossible to know which fire, and which material, was its cause, he said.
Fiskville whistleblower and former CFA chief Brian Potter said he and his colleagues battled with insurers to get compensation for cancers.
"One of the dilemmas is that unless you can quote exactly the incident that you were at, and precisely the materials that were burning … you find (yourself) at a critically difficult period," he said.
Already, firefighters employed on federal sites like airports have had laws changed that give compensation for cancers known to have been caused by smoke and fumes that firefighters are exposed to at work.
The Greens' Colleen Hartland has introduced an upper house bill that would give firefighters compensation if they contract specific cancers after a set number of years of working. The time period differs depending on the cancer.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Jacinta Allen appeared with the firefighters outside Parliament this month and said "the science is in" on the causes of firefighters' cancers.
"We need the Liberal/National government to come to the table," she said.
Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips said a Monash University study into the matter was under way and once it was concluded the government would consider whether action was needed.