Rain fell on a crowd of several hundred people at Calgary City Hall Tuesday as the Calgary Fire Department's pipe band played for the firefighters' annual memorial service.
As part of the memorial, six names were added to the list of the department's fallen firefighters this year, which now numbers 53.
"Six is about average. It would be really nice to not have to put any names on the wall," said Mike Henson, president of the Calgary Firefighters Association. "There's just a lot of cancers and presumptive cancers going on that affect our members and our retired members. Sometimes, the members succumb to those diseases."
Of the 53 firefighters on the list, 44 of those died because of work-related illnesses. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the memorial was important to remember those who died in the line of duty, or those who died later in life as a result of work-related illness.
"It's important for us to remember all of this," he said. "Especially in these times where it's sort of fashionable to bash public servants, of the real importance of the sacrifice that they make in choosing a career to serve the public and keep us safe."
Eighty-six per cent of all Canadian workplace fatality claims came as a result of cancer, and firefighters died of cancer by a rate three times higher than the general population, according to a 2018 University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) study.
The study also noted the prevalence of mental health challenges among firefighters, listing those health concerns as the third leading number of time-loss claims.
Henson said the Calgary Fire Department has introduced several initiatives in recent years to support local firefighters, including adding two psychologists in 2018 to better address mental health issues.
"It's a support that is needed. Mental health should no longer be hidden," he said. "We should bring it out and we should make an area, make a society where it's welcome to talk about mental health."