PAUL Beattie has been battling cancer in his lungs and brain for almost six years and is asking if chemicals he was exposed to while living and working at the Country Fire Authority training college in Fiskville are to blame.
Mr Beattie was 22-years-old in 1989 and working for the National Safety Council when he trained at Fiskville, near Ballarat, for three months as part of the recruitment course.
He said he didn’t ever question whether what the trainees were doing would harm their health, it didn’t cross his mind.
“As a firefighter your first priority is to save lives and property, as a young guy you didn’t question what was going on,” Mr Beattie said.
“I believe the employer has a duty of care to provide a safe work place but you can’t assume anything.”
In February 2006, aged 39, Mr Beattie was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his left lung. He had never smoked.
With the cancer so advanced, surgery to remove it was not an option and Mr Beattie was given six months to live, news that shocked and devastated him, his wife Mandy and their three children, Bailey, Jade and Zahn who were living happily in Portland.
One of the reasons the news was so shocking, was that Mr Beattie was in peak physical condition, he had represented Australia in slalom kayaking and his family had made every effort to be fit and healthy.
“I lead a really fit life, we all do as a family,” Mr Beattie said.
“I felt very isolated because I couldn’t understand why, I did everything right to be healthy.
“I felt I was just unlucky,” he said.
It is now a full-time routine of treatments, surgery and recovering for the former pilot, who is unable to fly anymore due to the cancer. Mr Beattie is currently recovering from neurosurgery he had last week to remove a tumour which left him unable to walk.
Mr Beattie said he had noticed the recent media reports regarding concerns of those who lived and worked at Fiskville, particularly in the 1970 and 80s, and were exposed to chemicals, and an apparent high rate of cancer among those people and their families.
“When we were training the majority of the fires were chemical based,” Mr Beattie said.
While Mr Beattie isn’t sure the exposure is the cause of his cancer, he wants to be involved in an investigation to find out more.
In Wednesday’s Herald Sun a CFA scientific document from 1990 revealed the organisation knew the chemicals could be dangerous but those that had worked there were not notified of the dangers.
“I would have done things very differently if I knew the dangers, first of all I wouldn’t have worked there,” Mr Beattie said.
“There should have been full disclosure, why weren’t letters sent out,” he said.
Mr Beattie said if he knew he had been exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals he would have had more routine health checks and would have been more alert to changes in his body.
“If I had more regular health checks the cancer may have been picked up at stage two in my lungs, which would have been operable,” Mr Beattie said.
“I could have only lost an eighth of one lung and got on with my life but now I only have half of one lung left.”
Mr Beattie said he had been approached to be involved in a class action over the Fiskville claims and was also keen for an independent investigation because he wanted to make sure companies and organisations met their duty of care to employees.
He has called for companies to be independently audited and regulated to make sure employees are not exposed to unsafe workplaces.
“This needs to become best practise for industry.”
“We can’t trust the ethics of big companies, it needs to be independent,” he said.
This week Mr Beattie is preparing to spend Christmas with his family and said cancer has taught him to live and enjoy every day.
“Life is for living,” he said.