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12 Months on from the launch of ‘Thank a First Responder Day’. Where did that year go?

The day-to-day life of a first responder is impossible to predict. 

You bundy on for a shift not knowing where that next call for help will take you – a major motor vehicle accident, a house fire with people trapped, a swift water flood rescue, a violent late-night assault. 

Not forgetting what happened the shift before. 

It’s a job like no other, but human nature being what it is, the scale and intensity of what our emergency services see and do from one day to the next can easily be pushed aside as “all in a day’s work” and could start to be taken for granted.  

In the 12 months since the very first ‘Thank a First Responder Day’ in June, 2020, these women and men who answer our calls for help have had to carry more.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing bushfire recovery, and widespread flooding have added an extra weight to the work of our first responder community – which extends beyond the worker and includes their family. 

Thank a First Responder Day in 2021 looks to show gratitude for the care, skill, and commitment of all these people during these challenging times. 

The ‘power of thank you’ should not be underrated. 

“Validation is key to someone feeling seen, heard and witnessed,” says Fortem psychologist Sharene Borsi. 

“It is something we overlook but which is incredibly powerful, especially for our first responders who tend to be seen as indestructible rather than as humans.” 

In the last 12 months, Fortem has made every day, Thank a First Responder Day through our wellbeing activities, psychology support and care coordination for emergency service personnel and their families.  

Close to 7,000 people have taken part in around 500 activities – ranging from surf lessons to art classes, to bush walking, yoga retreats, self-defence classes, Oz tag games, kids play dates, cooking classes and so much more. 

Through these activities Fortem helps establish a healthy set of practical lifestyle habits, underpinned by social connection, that empower us all be mentally fit. 

The feedback from participants speaks for itself: 

“It was such a great time to mentally and emotionally relax. Thank you so much!” 

“We really appreciate this opportunity. I have done things that I would never have done. I feel so chilled and have enjoyed the time I’ve had with my husband and others from similar backgrounds.” 

“I will now endeavour to do more activities one to one with my daughter to strengthen our relationship. I didn’t realise how little we do just the two of us.” 

“As a volunteer firefighter, I can be called away. Suddenly, my wife – who works full-time – is left taking care of everyone. That’s the main reason I’ve joined in with some of Fortem’s activities. It’s been good for us to go along, spend time together, meet some other people who are in similar situations, have a bit of fun.”  

“Getting over a summer like that is tough. There are little triggers that still set off memories of the fires. It’s been important to learn to switch off from it.  A friend from the brigade recently spotted Fortem’s program and sent a link to me. I feel like I’m making up for the time I missed last summer.” 

“It was really good to see the children laughing and connecting with other kids whose families are similar – they know they’re not alone in any of this.” 

“It gave me a chance to relax and completely get my mind off anything and everything and recharge my batteries. It’s good to feel supported.” 

“I wasn’t going to come back after the first class because I was nervous and I didn’t really know anyone, but I am glad I kept coming. I’ve now made friends here.” 

We know that first responders and their families are enormously resilient and have a long history of meeting the challenges they face.  

Fortem’s daily wellbeing activities and online resources support and strengthen those reserves, but sometimes more is needed. 

Our clinical services, which were launched nine months ago, include psychology support and care coordination, and are providing a deeper level of support. Whatever you’re going through, and wherever you’re located, you can book a psychology session. 

But we are only just getting started. 

As the second ‘Thank a First Responder Day’ rolls around on 9 June, 2021 we look to reach more men, women and families, beyond our existing footprint in regional and metropolitan NSW, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT.  

We know that more than half of all emergency responders are deeply impacted by the traumas they face in the course of their duties:  

  • The first responder community has higher rates of psychological distress, higher rates of diagnosis for mental health conditions, and higher rates of suicidal thinking and planning than the general adult population.  
  • First responders are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts and to experience high psychological distress.  
  • The devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic and recent flooding compounds people’s trauma exposure. 

Fortem Australia stands ready today and every day and asks that you lend your support on 9 June, Thank a First Responder Day. You will find free and easy resources to take part HERE.  

Mental health resources for first responders and their families can be found in the Fortem Resource Library.

To make an appointment with one of Fortem’s psychologists, call 1300 33 95 94.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
Find out Who We Support and share this story to help us reach them.