Fortem ambassadors are committed to supporting the wellbeing and mental fitness of first responder families. Our ambassadors share their messages and lived experiences to highlight the importance of building mental fitness and protective factors for long-term health and wellbeing.
TONY ABBOTT AC
The Hon Tony Abbott AC served as Prime Minister of Australia for two years, from 2013 to 2015.
He understands the experience of the first responder community, as he serves as a Deputy Captain with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade and does surf patrols with the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club.
Since 1998, he has convened the Pollie Pedal annual charity bike ride which has raised nearly $7 million. In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed as a Companion in the Order of Australia for his eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister.
Tony served as the member for Warringah in the Australian parliament between 1994 and 2019. Prior to entering parliament, he was a journalist with The Australian, a senior adviser to opposition leader John Hewson, and director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. He has degrees in economics and law from Sydney University and in politics and philosophy from Oxford which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He is a Member of the Australian War Memorial Council, a Director of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, and an advisor to the UK Board of Trade.
Since 1998, he has convened the Pollie Pedal annual charity bike ride which has raised nearly $7 million for organisations such as Soldier On and Carers Australia. He still does surf patrols with the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club and serves as a Deputy Captain with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade. In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed as a Companion in the Order of Australia for his eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister, and through significant contributions to trade, border control, and to the Indigenous community.
He is married to Margaret and they are the parents of three daughters – Louise, Frances and Bridget.
Nick Bell joined the NT Fire & Rescue Service in 1987 and was promoted to Watch Commander in 2004, a position he held until his resignation in March 2020. He has extensive experience in operational firefighting, having responded to and taken command of countless critical incidents including structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, gas leaks, truck accidents, cliff rescues, hazardous material spills and large bushfires.
Nick created SD Consulting Australia in 2004, to provide businesses with practical, effective, and efficient Work Health & Safety, risk management, crisis and emergency preparedness and safety leadership training solutions. This includes conducting and producing risk surveys, gap analysis, policy and procedure development, Risk Management Plans for major events and several other related services. SDCA is especially geared for start-ups, small and medium sized businesses that have little or no WH&S / risk protocols in place.
Nick regularly conducts training workshops for clients in the above areas and more, as well as giving talks and keynote speeches at conferences, operations meetings, board meetings and ‘Lunch & Learn’ workshops.
Nick’s interests include boxing, running and continuous self-improvement through reading and research in the above workshops he facilitates. He has travelled extensively throughout Western Europe and SE Asia. Nick is married and has two children and is based on the Gold Coast in Broadbeach.
Nick is deeply passionate about the work he does as a consultant in the WH&S and Risk Management field. He is also a proud supporter of the Australian Road Safety Foundation, White Ribbon / 1800 Respect and has worked with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Now as an ambassador for Fortem, he is keen to help in any way he can.
Will Collett is an ex serving member of the AFP and the ADF. He is now the Founder and Coach of ‘Making Men’, a private group aimed at supporting good men everywhere.
By joining Fortem, Will hopes that by telling his story, he can help others and become a conduit to support if ever they find themselves in a similar situation & get the right help & support. If he can help one person through his story and experiences, then it has been successful.
Will states that, “As First Responders & Defence, the code we live by involves courage, mateship, sacrifice, and endurance. When something breaks inside us and we can no longer perform that code – our jobs, we are often challenged to find other meaning & direction in our lives”.
After 17 years in the AFP & 8 years in the ADF, Will was diagnosed with chronic PTSD in 2017 and experienced firsthand the need to have the right support. By sharing his story, Will hopes to help and support others to get the right support.
Will did not believe for one minute that he would ever be diagnosed with PTSD. He had helped mates through it in the past but never felt he would be susceptible.
Then within a very short space of time in late 2017 Will was faced with the reality of PTSD and this started to affect every aspect of his life from work, family, health, and physical fitness. Through this, Will had the support of a few good mates who had been there before. Without the right support it is a very difficult process and easy for a person to fall off the radar into helplessness.
GRANT EDWARDS APM
Grant Edwards is passionate about assisting and promoting the great work Fortem does around social connectedness, education and awareness of the impact mental health injuries have on those who place their life on the line to protect our communities, as well as the mental wellbeing of their families and loved ones.
Grant served with the Australian Federal Police for 34 years, is an accomplished sportsperson and strongman competitor, and he holds a Master’s degree in leadership, policy and governance studies.
Grant retired from the Australian Federal Police after 34 years of dedicated service. He has enjoyed a truly diverse career working across all facets of local, national and international policing, and transnational crime. He has held numerous senior multi-jurisdictional roles in Interpol, United Nations and during his deployment to Afghanistan as Mission Commander and Deputy Head of the International Police Coordination Board Afghanistan. During his role as the AFP’s senior officer in Timor-Leste, Grant held the role of Advisor to the Secretary of State for Security within the Government of Timor-Leste and oversaw the international investigation into the attempted assassination attempts of President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. Amongst many other career highlights, Grant established the AFP’s Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team to address crimes of sexual exploitation of woman and children and travelling child sex offenders.
Grant also held positions as the AFP’s international Liaison Officer in Los Angeles and completed a three year posting to Washington DC as the AFP’s most senior officer in the Americas, responsible for all law enforcement engagement with Canada, USA, Mexico, Central and South America.
Grant is an accomplished sportsperson having represented Australia in athletics, bobsleigh, powerlifting and the Scottish Highland Games. He has competed across the world in Strongman events, including the 1999 World’s Strongest Man competition in Malta. He is well known for physically pulling planes, boats and trucks, culminating in a Guinness World Record for single-handedly pulling a 201-tonne steam locomotive in 1997. In 2017, he single-handedly pulled a 178-tonne C-17 US Military Globemaster in the USA to raise awareness for mental health in policing and law enforcement.
Grant holds a Master’s degree in leadership, policy and governance studies through Charles Sturt University, a Bachelor of Arts (Australian National University) and is a graduate of the FBI Law Enforcement Senior Executive Program. He has presented across the globe on identifying and enhancing a unified universal best practice for managing the mental health of police, family and retired members.
He is a passionate advocate in the field of mental health, especially for police, first responders and the emergency services. In 2017, ABC’s Australian Story broadcast his personal lived experience of PTSD. In 2019, Grant published his memoir, The Strong Man.
PAUL FIELD AM
Paul Field AM knows that first responders and their families need further support, both during their career and when transitioning out.
Paul is an author, singer, producer, director and former managing director of The Wiggles. In the Australia Day 2020 Honours List, Paul was appointed as Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the arts, particularly to children’s entertainment, and as a
supporter of charitable endeavours.
Paul has also worked for the Supreme Court, and was the only civilian member of the Investigations Team for the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption in NSW.
He is the author of two books – Confessions of a Crooked Cop (under the pseudonym Sean Padraic), and Gimme Shelter: Stories of Courage, Endurance and Survival from the Frontline and Back Home.
Paul has written at length about first responders, veterans and their families, particularly their struggles in returning to everyday life after service or dealing with the loss of loved ones.
Jess Grimwood is a former Firefighter and Rescue Operator with Fire and Rescue NSW. In 2017, she was medically discharged with PTSD and has since committed to working with mental health professionals to understand the effects of trauma and learn about positive coping strategies. With many friends serving in the emergency services, Jess strives to be part of their support networks by offering the tools and resources she has found helpful in her own journey. She is looking forward to spreading the word about support of first responders.
Jess is also a former competitive surfer, having represented Australia twice in the sport.
Jess says, “My time spent as a first responder has given me the greatest challenges as well as the greatest lessons.”
Piper Johnson is the daughter of a current Fire and Rescue NSW Firefighter, and granddaughter of a former Firefighter from the 1960s and 1970s. Piper is currently a Year 6 student and Vice Captain of her school.
Having been born into an emergency service family, Piper knows the physical, emotional and mental strength it takes for loved ones to serve our community and what is required from their families to support them to be heroes. Families are the unsung heroes.
Piper is the creator of a concept known as ESKies, standing for Emergency Services Kiddies. She introduced this concept during a school project that involved addressing social justice issues that affected the community and she is ecstatic to be a Family Ambassador with Fortem Australia.
By joining Fortem, Piper hopes to raise awareness and encourage a support network for all children of Emergency Service Kiddies. ESKies should allow kids to share how they feel with each other when their parent/s goes to work or if they are little late home or if they come home tired or injured. She is also hoping it opens conversations within the family unit and provides them comfort knowing there are other unique and extraordinary families like theirs.
Her goals are to achieve a regular interaction through Fortem and their associated connections, with an open forum or social platform where ESKies get to have a voice about their own experiences and hope the ESKies concept and the importance of the children of emergency service workers resonates with all.
Tara Lal dedicates her time to changing the public narrative around suicide and mental illness, through the integration of research and storytelling. Tara is a senior firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW who joined the service in 2005.
Her passion for supporting the mental health of firefighters evolved partly from her own experiences of growing up in a family deeply impacted by suicide and mental ill health, and partly from witnessing the devastating impact of mental illness and suicide on her colleagues at Fire and Rescue.
Tara is a long-time member of the peer support team and has managed the psychological wellbeing program at Fire and Rescue. She is also the internationally published author of Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders: making peace with grief and suicide, a PhD candidate at the University of New England (focusing on understanding the impact of suicide on firefighters), and a finalist in the Rotary Inspirational Woman of the Year awards.
Tara recently cycled unsupported across Australia, raising money and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
Tara says, “It’s my pleasure and privilege to be an ambassador for Fortem, most especially because I believe wholeheartedly in their approach, which aligns exactly with what I see, hear and know from the research is needed and called for in the space of first responder health and wellbeing. A shift away from the bio-medical model towards a social, relational and cultural model.”
Kate Lord is passionate about supporting Fortem to help family members, partners, children and friends of those living with PTSD, depression and anxiety. Kate’s husband, Grant Edwards, is a decorated former Police Officer with the Australian Federal Police. When Grant returned from his posting in Afghanistan, Kate noticed a huge change in his behaviour.
He isolated himself from Kate and their daughter, threw himself into work, training and medical appointments as he tried to get answers about why his body was failing him. As he turned to self-medicating behaviours and alcohol abuse, Kate believed he had a mental injury, rather than a physical injury, but Grant was not having any part of that suggestion.
Kate spent years searching for the help and support she needed to remain strong and keep their family together. There was nothing available for her, as the partner of a Police Officer with declining mental health, to reach out for support.
When Kate felt like she had no where else to turn she reached out to her sports psychologist, who guided Grant through the next few months and helped him to understand and accept that his body was shutting down in order to force him to stop and take care of his mental health. Grant was later diagnosed with PTSD.
Kate began her career as a primary school PE teacher, while training towards her dream of making the National Rowing Squad. With the help of a sports psychologist, she then transitioned to become a personal trainer and business owner.
Kate shares her story with others who are going through similar challenges, to help them know that the rollercoaster of emotions they may be feeling is normal.
Damian Martin believes that mental fitness is the key to performing at a high level in any role.
Damian is a former professional basketball player and one of the NBL’s most decorated players – he captained the Australian U19 team to a gold medal at the 2003 World Championships, before going on to play for Australia at the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where Australia won the gold medal.
The six-time NBL champion, six-time NBL best defensive player and 2016 NBL Grand Final MVP has dedicated significant time to building mental fitness throughout his thirteen-year NBL career, in order to perform at his best.
Alongside his passion for basketball, Damian has assisted numerous teams and organisations with building their mental fitness.
Damian has supported many charities and causes throughout his career, including men’s mental health.
ANDY RHODES QPM
Andy Rhodes dedicates his working life to the wellbeing of first responders, and believes that organisations like Fortem are vital for the mental health of those who serve our communities.
Andy Rhodes is the former Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary one of 43 forces in England and Wales with a workforce of 6000. For 10 years he was the NPCC lead for well being, staff engagement and organisational development. His policing background has been mainly in the uniform & specialist operations disciplines including Counter Terrorism Firearms Command. He was awarded the QPM in 2016 and has an MBA and a Post Graduate Certificate in coaching. Until retirement in 2021 he was chair of CPOSA the Chief Police Officers Staff Association.
Andy is currently preparing his doctoral research study which will focus on well being.
Andy has worked with experts from across policing and academia, and is the service lead for the National Well Being Service (NPWS) Oscar Kilo www.oscarkilo.org.uk. The NPWS is funded by Government and Public Health England and services a blue light community of over 200,000 law enforcement and fire professionals. The OK programme comprises a range of services from line manager & executive leadership training to psychological support.
The NPWS team co-ordinate a fleet of 10 outreach vehicles kitted out with health screening equipment and represents a vital front end to the service which is highly visible and able to extend its reach to a dynamic frontline. Over 10,000 members of staff have accessed early intervention physical, psychological and financial check-ups in the last 12 months. In crisis events, the fleet is used to forward deploy for use in trauma debriefs.
Andy is now the Service Director for the National Well Being Service and also an executive coach, consultant and in his spare time volunteers in the charity Strong Young Minds which he set up 5 years ago with his wife Helen who is COO. The charity provides resilience support for young people in educational settings.
Outside of work Andy has 3 children, 3 grandchildren and is married to Helen a psychotherapist who specialises in drug & alcohol recovery. Having discovered QiGong they are studying for accreditation so that they can help others access the incredible benefits of this ancient Chinese practice.
In between all this Andy enjoys competitive triathlon having completed several long distance events usually finishing in the dark.
Laura is a former paramedic who has worked for Ambulance Victoria and the London Ambulance Service. She now works as a consultant in KPMG’s Health, Ageing and Human Services practice, where she leverages her paramedic skills and experience to help clients solve complex challenges.
Laura is incredibly passionate about supporting first responders who are looking to transition from working in the emergency services to other careers. She believes first responders have a diverse range of skills and attributes that bring great value outside of just the emergency services sector. She also appreciates the challenges first responders face in transitioning out of the emergency services and is looking forward to supporting people to pursue new career pathways.
Andrew Traver believes that mental health and wellbeing needs to be a major priority for first responders and their families. He speaks publicly about his own mental health experiences – both as an individual and as the leader of a first responder agency – in order to help normalise these conversations.
Andrew is the former Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). NCIS investigates and defeats criminal, foreign intelligence, cyber and terrorist threats to the United States Navy and Marine Corps wherever they operate: ashore, afloat and in cyberspace. Andrew’s global role had him working with many nations in addition to the US, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Colombia, England, Italy, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore and Germany.
Importantly, he implemented a peer-support program to help agents deal with trauma and mental health issues.
Andrew now works in MSU’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Ben Watson has served as a volunteer firefighter for nearly 25 years, and currently volunteers as a Group Captain with The Hills district in Sydney. He is a husband and father, serves the country as an Army Officer and the community as a volunteer firefighter, as well as co-founder in a company ‘Bushfire Risk Assessments’.
He believes there are two elements to the health of our first responders, mental and physical – both work in unison and need to be in balance. He also recognises the importance of supporting family of first responders, knowing that those at home are often under pressure too.
As a young man growing up on the urban rural fringe, Ben lived through two devastating bushfires, one that took the lives of his neighbours and one that destroyed his family home. Last fire season he led hundreds of firefighters on the most hazardous firegrounds in NSW.
Ben has been an Army Officer for 20 years and he is most proud of his service leading Australian soldiers in combat. With 5 operational tours and multiple leadership appointments it is clear that he understands what it takes to work in high stress and high tempo environments.
“…whether on the battlefield or the fireground, I attribute my resilience to preparation, training, my family and mentors.”
“It is important to remember that not just the person in harm’s way needs to be resilient, those at home are often under more pressure and stress. I regularly check in with my wife and kids.” Last fire season after a particularly difficult couple of hours and close calls at the Gospers Mountain Fire, Ben rang home, he says “it was as much for me as it was for them. There might be one person in harm’s way but there are an unknown number of family and friends supporting them.”
When asked to support Fortem, Ben said “…supporting the great work at Fortem is a no brainer. Education, awareness and connectedness for our frontline emergency service personnel is how Australia will remain strong and resilient, Fortem is the link we have been missing. First Responders have similar experiences and sometimes we don’t know that the burden we carry is carried by many. It is as easy as having a conversation, and the events and services Fortem provide are going to make Australia’s emergency service personnel stronger and therefore more capable!”
Ben is co-founder of the company, Bushfire Risk Assessments. “Our vision is to create awareness and understanding of the risks associated with living in the bush.”
“I am tired of hearing… I didn’t think it could happen here. Many Australians move to areas or communities with increased likelihood of a natural disaster, and they simply don’t know it. I am hoping to create a company that makes it easy and quick for people to understand the risk before buying a house, much the same way as a pest or building inspection. Individuals moving to an area with insight and understanding, helps create ownership of risk and hence build more resilient communities. So many homes in bushfire prone land are not built to current standards, and it is important that people are aware of the hidden expenses involved to make their home safer. Lessening the burden of bushfires and the risk to the community is an important step in helping our first responders protect us”.
Ben’s proud to live a life of community service and is committed to supporting Fortem make the emergency service team stronger.
Cameron is a former Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer, who held leadership roles spanning criminal investigations, national security operations, and as a liaison to the Minister for Law Enforcement.
Cameron is a vocal advocate for the prevention and treatment of post-traumatic stress among first responders. He regularly mentors current and former first responders, while assisting them to build a positive mindset, healthy lifestyle and seek support where necessary.
Cameron played a leading role in the AFP’s fight against foreign bribery and corruption for the last four years of his career. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Bribery Prevention Network, a world-first public-private partnership that assists Australian businesses to detect, prevent and address bribery.
During his career, Cameron has presented at major global forums, including the OECD and APEC, regarding Australia’s efforts in addressing and preventing foreign bribery and corruption.
Cameron is passionate about encouraging businesses to more actively participate in solutions to address entrenched bribery and corruption around the world. He founded his business, Capital Integrity, with this goal in mind.
As the Founder and Managing Director of Capital Integrity, Cameron helps clients to entrench social and governance best practice at the centre of their operations, ensuring the greatest possible protection from risks related to bribery and corruption.