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Beyond Duty Summit Resource

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In September 2021, Fortem Australia hosted a one-day online summit for leaders, staff, volunteers, families and communities connected to first responder and national security agencies.

The summit took place over three sessions around the theme ‘Beyond Duty – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing?’

The Fortem model of care and support draws heavily on the premise that connectedness – to family, community and colleagues; has a massive bearing on individual wellbeing.

Beyond Duty canvassed research and lived experience from industry leaders, the first responder community, and health professionals, who explored a whole of person approach to mental health and fitness – during and
post service.

Those taking part shone a light on the importance of the social, cultural and structural systems around individual workers in supporting their mental wellbeing throughout all stages of their career and life.

Beyond Duty had a strong focus on the family unit and networks of emergency service workers; including both the impact of the work as well as the protective influence that strengthening these social bonds can have.

The family is an important resource in supporting the mental fitness of first responders and needs greater consideration in the management of stress related strain and injury in the workplace.

Understanding the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing is another step towards addressing the higher rates of psychological distress we see in this important community.

The actions that follow are critical in building health and resilience in people and places across Australia.

In this document you will find video links to each speaker’s presentation.

Go through them in your own time. The community is invited to share these recourses widely, be agents for change, and keep the conversation and connection going.

Beyond Duty - Session 1

Wellbeing Needs Through the Eyes of a First Responder Family

Graham Ashton and Dr Liz Sutton reflect on their lived experience as a first responder family – the positive and negative and what they learnt along the way about the wellbeing needs of their community during and post service.

Graham is Chair of Fortem Australia and the former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police. Dr Liz Sutton is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at Monash University. They have been married for over 25 years and have two adult daughters.

Catch up on their time at Beyond Duty HERE.

Holistically Understanding Occupational Stress: The Factors that Reduce Burnout and Stress Risks in First Responders

Dr Sally Kelty, Psychologist, University of Canberra

Catch up on Sally’s Beyond Duty presentation HERE.

Beyond Duty - Session 2

Research Findings: Workplace Culture, Family and Community

Dr David Lawrence, University of Western Australia. David and his team conducted the ‘Answering the Call’ study on behalf of Beyond Blue, surveying over 20,000 first responders. His UWA team is currently conducting a follow-up study, ‘After the Fires’ to examine the impacts of responding to the 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires.

Catch up on David’s time at Beyond Duty HERE.

Panel Discussion: The lived experience of first responders and their families

Ben Watson, NSW Rural Fire Service Volunteer; Group Captain, The Hills District, Sydney Kate Lord, Owner and Personal Trainer, ABC Fitness; wife of a first responder Cameron Watts, Founder and CEO, Capital Integrity; former Australian Federal Police Officer

Catch up on the Beyond Duty conversation HERE.

Fighting for the Person Behind the Uniform: Why First Responders Must Work Hard to Stay Well in the Job

Dr Kristen Hamling, Wellbeing Aoteraroa, New Zealand

Catch up on Kristen’s Beyond Duty presentation HERE.

The Resilience Doughnut: The Strong Correlation Between Individual Resilience and the Family Unit’s Wellbeing

Lyn Worsley, Director, The Resilience Centre, Sydney

Catch up on Lyn’s time at Beyond Duty HERE.

Beyond Duty - Session 3

Panel Discussion: Suicide in the First Responder Community – Lived Experience, Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Shayne Connell, CEO, LivingWorks Australia
  • Dr Jacqueline Drew, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University
  • Tara Lal, Senior Firefighter, Fire & Rescue NSW; PhD Candidate, University of New England


Catch up on their Beyond Duty conversation HERE.

Six Developments in the Trauma Field: Changing How We Think About First Responder Workplace Injury Prevention, Management and Recovery

Professor Zachary Steel, University of NSW, President of the Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and Chair, St John of God Trauma and Mental Health

Catch up on Zach’s Beyond Duty presentation HERE.

Lived Experience with PTSD and the Importance of ‘A Good Transition’
James Maskey, Engagement Manager, Fortem Australia. James is a retired front-line Queensland Police Officer. In 2013, he was diagnosed with PTSD and passionately shares his own lived experience to encourage help-seeking behaviours.

Catch up on James’ story HERE.

Beyond Duty - bonus content

Beyond Duty – “We need to narrow the gap between home and work,” a first responder family story.

Kate Lord is a personal trainer and the wife of a first responder. Her partner, Grant Edwards, experienced PTSD and depression while serving as an Australian Federal Police Officer.

Kate is a Fortem Ambassador, and as part of a panel discussion at the Beyond Duty Summit, she shared her thoughts on the need for stronger links between home and work.

Catch up HERE.

Beyond Duty – why suicide prevention is a role for the whole first responder community.

There are some protections that can be put in place to help first responders who are at risk of mental health challenges including suicide.

Shayne Connell is the CEO of LivingWorks Australia and was part of a panel discussion at Beyond Duty, on suicide in the first responder community. LivingWorks and Fortem are partners in delivering suicide first aid training to the first responder community. The training is designed to provide the skills for knowing what to do and say to support the people around us.

Catch up HERE.

Beyond Duty - bonus content

Beyond Duty, a final word

Fortem’s Beyond Duty Summit was a milestone in the community’s understanding of the impacts that exposure to high-stress work and potentially traumatic events can have on first responders and their family members.

Over 700 people registered for each of the three live video sessions, brought together around the theme – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing?

“If the chat happening on the sidelines was anything to go by, we have reached a critical point in our response to the mental health needs of these important people,” says John Bale, Managing Director, Fortem Australia.

“The Beyond Duty Summit gave the first responder community an opportunity to be seen and heard.

There were many powerful moments which drove a loud call to action for all who have responsibility in this space.

“The powerhouse role that family and social connections play in wellbeing and mental fitness was really evident and reinforces the importance we place on those relationships through our wellbeing activities and clinical supports.

“The community members we heard from spoke of the need to reduce the gap between work and family for first responders – the two are intertwined and need to be seen as such and respected.”

The Beyond Duty Summit builds on the ‘Answering the Call’ report which highlighted higher rates of psychological distress; higher rates of mental health conditions; and higher rates of suicidal thinking and planning in the first responder community.

The summit attracted emergency service representatives from every Australian state and territory, along with first responders from The United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and New Zealand.

“The job of a first responder is not normal and needs extra support, thinking, and organisational frameworks,” John says.

“There is still work to do within the culture and structures of first responder agencies when it comes to reducing stigma and respecting mental health needs in career advancement. “Equally, the power of the individual to shape their own mental fitness rang loudly and inspires action from within.

“The summit demonstrated a real commitment at all levels of the first responder community to take action – Fortem stands ready and will continue to lead this work. “Thank you to everyone who took part in Beyond Duty, especially our great speakers and sponsors – EML, KPMG and Public Sector Network.”

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