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“If you’re a first responder and been through what you’ve been through, hook on to Fortem.”

Port Macquarie’s Ian Bagster has been helping people all his life. His ongoing service to the community is central to his wellbeing, but he is also mindful of the toll this work can take. 

“Oh, mate without that I don’t know where I’d be to be quite honest. If I can help somebody, I get a sense of accomplishment and that’s great for me,” Ian says. 

Ian’s time with NSW Ambulance started in 1968 in Cooma, on the edge of the NSW snowfields, “when we got married, I wanted to go to the Gold Coast but the wife said – I want to go to Snowy Mountains. Well, typically she won, and we went to the Snowy Mountains,” he laughs. 

From Cooma, came time in Tenterfield, Dungog, Walgett, Boorowa, Narooma and Wauchope before this ‘I’ve been everywhere man’ retired in October 2001. 

“Probably the biggest thing that stands out for me are the friendships we made throughout all those years, and I would say in just about every town we’ve been in, we still have friends in those towns which to me is a great thing,” Ian says.  

Retirement for Ian, lead to a career as a volunteer that continues today with the NSW Rural Fire Service and Lifeline as a telephone counsellor.  

Barbara, his wife of 53 years has been his ‘everything’ along the way and like all first responder partners, has been Ian’s refuge from the inevitable trauma of his work. 

“I’m lucky I have a good wife behind me, who I would go and talk to when I got home and off load – we spoke about things that you wouldn’t talk about normally,” he says. 

Ian and Barbara Bagster – a team 53 years strong.

“We’d also talk internally among ourselves at the station and so forth. And yes, I would off load to somebody else and they in turn would off load.” 

Tapping into those connections and talking to others remains part of Ian’s mental fitness routine now, making the most of Fortem activities in his local area.  

“I’ve been to a couple of activities with Fortem, you get to meet people in similar boats,” he says. 

“I’ve done the cheese board making course and I was the only male among 24 women for the earring making course. Why wife and two daughters now all have new earrings, and they want me to make some more! 

“By the end of the course, I was thinking – what was I worried about? Because the tutors really put you at ease. And it was such fun, I really enjoyed it. And I’m looking to incorporate what I learnt into my other hobbies.” 

Ian is living and breathing Fortem’s ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ developed by the Royal Melbourne Hospital

Our programs and activities are underpinned by the ‘5 Ways’; a set of practical lifestyle habits to help us all be mentally fit: 

1. Connect 

Connection is at the core of Fortem Australia’s values. We connect families together to strengthen family bonds and resilience and provide connection with other first responder families. 

Studies show that connection is critical on the path to mental fitness and can play a protective role in maintaining wellbeing in the face of repeated exposure to severe stressors. 

2. Be Active 

Many of our activities incorporate an active element. This is an effective way of helping first responder families build resilience and wellbeing. 

Physical health plays a major role in mental fitness. Regular exercise helps us cope with stress, gives us more energy and confidence, improves the quality of sleep, and detracts from negative thoughts. 

3. Keep Learning 

Learning new things boosts self-confidence and provides a sense of purpose. 

For first responder families, the opportunity to share a new experience with their family.

4. Be Mindful 

When a participant is standing up for the first time in a surfing lesson for example (or making earrings!), their mind is completely in that moment – the activity blocks out worries and reduces stress. 

Mindfulness is the ability to be in the present moment, it helps build greater self-awareness, build resilience, and helps you seek help when needed. 

5. Help Others 

We encourage acts of kindness, beyond the day-to-day work of first responders, to help build connections with others and the wider community. 

Helping others also builds confidence, offers a sense of purpose, and allows people to rise to a challenge. 

Ian is looking forward to doing more with Jody and the local Fortem team on the Mid-North Coast of NSW and is keen for others to get involved. 

“If you’re a first responder and been through what you’ve been through, hook on to Fortem – they’re great,” he says. 

“I’ve really enjoyed being involved. You get to meet other people in similar situations, and it really takes a lot of stress out of life. I’d really recommend it to any first responder.” 

To get involved in upcoming Fortem events check our Wellbeing Activities Calendar.
You’ll also find
mental health resources for first responders and their families in the Fortem Resource Libraryand via Peak Fortem.

Fortem Australia also offers psychology support for eligible first responders and family members. Call 1300 33 95 94 to find out more.