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Fortem events put first responder families front and centre

Fortem Australia has marked International Day Of Families with events, that saw first responders and their families attend activities in locations across Australia, including south west Sydney, Canberra, Gold Coast, Snowy Monaro, Bega Valley and south west Melbourne.

It is no surprise that the events were particularly popular with younger attendees. In Cooma, the highlights included, face-painting, lawn bowls, skittles, a balloon workshop, glitter tattoos and a great selection of food and sweets.

The Appin family day definitely delivered on the family fun front, with activities ranging from archery and a tug-of-war to a sniffer dog lolly hunt, followed by a free barbeque lunch and complimentary coffee. Emergency service agencies also provided an eye-opening display of vehicles, ranging from a sleek police highway patrol car, through to SES trucks (complete with kit) and even a Marine Rescue jet-ski.

The clear favourites of the day however, were the Border Force sniffer dogs and NSW Ambulance’s Ollie the Labrador – with both parents and children alike queuing up for a pat.

Fortem’s Appin event organiser, Nicole Delle Coste – a former police officer herself – said that despite the obvious glamour and glitter of the event, many participants reported some profound impacts.

Fortem Australia has marked International Day Of Families with events, that saw first responders and their families attend activities in locations across Australia, including south west Sydney, Canberra, Gold Coast, Snowy Monaro, Bega Valley and south west Melbourne.

“I’ve had quite a bit of feedback from participants, who have been quite surprised at how much of a difference they felt after attending the event,” Nicole said.

“There is a bit of a theme too – most of the feedback has been around the impact of really small things – like the opportunity to talk and socialise in a group setting, which is something we took for granted once-upon-a-time, but which has actually been pretty difficult to do in recent months.”

Paramedic Gus McGrath said that it was the small moments throughout the day that had made it a worthwhile experience for him.

“I had a real gem of a moment, where a small girl just came up and asked for a band-aid for her splinter,” he said. “There were heaps of little interactions that really made my day – things like showing kids the ambulance or letting them pat Ollie, our therapy-trained labrador. I think they all add up.

“I guess it’s that deeper social connection you get – it’s very different to the sort of social interactions you’re having when you’re on-road as a paramedic, which is quite a clinical interaction.”

Fortem’s Hayley Reynolds said attendees of her Bega Valley event had also reported an immediate benefit from attending.

“There was a really clear thread in the comments from people, around the relief they felt, just to have the time to take a step back and spend time with their family, particularly after the recent flooding down here.”

Hayley said the event was especially timely for many local first responders, whose mental resilience had been impacted by continuous days on duty dealing with floods and other emergencies.

“People mentioned that the social connection of the event seemed to really help them to manage that fatigue you get after dealing with a big incident like a flood or a fire.”

Fortem Clinician Rima Nasr said participant feedback about families and the importance of social connection reflected Fortem’s emphasis on these elements.

“We know that families of first responders often experience worries about their loved ones in service, whether that’s when they are on shift or assisting with disaster relief,” Rima said.

“Family members play a pivotal role in a first responder’s mental health and wellbeing – they become the first responder to the first responder, in a sense.

“We know that one of the best ways to support first responders, is to support, educate and protect families of first responders so they can receive care and provide care in return.

“Supporting strong social connections within families and their communities is a major protective factor against the emergence of PTSD and other mental health conditions.

“I think these Family Day events are a good opportunity for first responders and their families to share experiences and realise they are not alone.

“Sometimes, this can be the catalyst for a conversation about the importance of prioritising family, more time together and overall wellbeing.”

Those interested in finding out more can read Rima’s article ‘Importance of Family – The Frontline for the Frontline’.

Participants at Fortem’s International Day of Families wellbeing activities were asked ‘What might you do differently after attending this activity? Responses included:

  • “Do more activities with my family”
  • “Encourage my family to attend similar events and learn about my role in emergency services.”
  • “…be one of the services at the event, talking to others and explaining what we do.”

Other feedback included:

  • “Had a great time, everybody was so giving with their time.”
  • “Communications were excellent throughout”
  • “It was a good day!”

Find a free wellbeing activity for first responder families on our Wellbeing Activity Calendar.

Fortem activities are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
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