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First responder family story: “To have Fortem there for us is massive”

“We became friends first, and one thing led to another … we were married in 2003,” Doug says. 

“We were married in 2005!” Bec laughs. 

Doug, a NSW Police Officer of 15 years, and Bec, a primary school teacher, are sitting side by side to chat with us about their experience as a first responder family. Our conversation shifts easily between some laughs – Bec reminds Doug that he should remember that year because it was just a month later that he started his training at the academy – and some insights to what life is really like for them. 

“The activities make us feel pretty special” 

Doug, Bec, and their three children have attended a number of Fortem’s wellbeing activities. From surfing lessons to snow globe art, cooking classes to paintball, and a family fun day to a relaxing couples’ weekend away, this is a family who have taken opportunites to reconnect – a decision that they say has improved family life. 

Doug and Bec participated in Fortem’s Byron Bay weekend

“You get very tied up in the day-to-day life of going to work and coming home; you’re tired and don’t always put as much into family life as you should,” Doug says. “So being able to book in and do these different outings together is great for our mental health. It takes your mind off other things going on in your life. 

“The activities make us feel pretty special. And it’s made us better at making sure we go out and spend time together as a family, even when there’s not a Fortem activity on.” 

Bec says that, for her, it’s also been a great way to meet the people that Doug works with. “I hadn’t actually met a lot of them, or I’d met some of them but not their families,” she says, “so it’s been good to meet other families at the activities. These are people who understand the pressures, and we’ve talked and shared information about other resources we can use to help us too.” 

The Covid effect on a first responder’s shift working life 

While the pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, one of the impacts highlighted by Doug and Bec is the challenge in getting enough rest between shifts. 

“Where he’d normally have downtime after a night shift when the kids aren’t home, we’ve instead got the kids here wanting attention because they’re all trying to home learn,” Bec explains.  

“And you definitely need that rest after a night shift, or you hit the 3am mark and the body wants to shut down,” Doug says. “If you don’t get a good rest you’re in all sorts of trouble.” 

Finding ways to get that downtime in has been important with work being busier than ever, Doug says. “There are a lot more jobs for us to attend on top of what we already do, including making sure businesses or locations are doing the right thing.” 

When times got tough, they called on Fortem’s psychology support 

Doug and Bec have been chatting to us for a while when they reveal the time that Fortem’s support was most appreciated. 

“We had a cancer diagnosis in our family last year, so I called on Fortem’s psychology support,” Bec says. “At the time of the diagnosis we’d just got through Covid and I couldn’t get support anywhere. On top of that, we had lots of other expenses, so to be able to get that help without the expense of it was so helpful.” 

Doug nods and adds, “To have Fortem there for us was massive.”