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After the Fires: Supporting the Ongoing Wellbeing and Resilience of Australia’s First Responders Following the 2019-20 Bushfires

A national mixed-methods research study to examine the short and long-term impacts of direct and indirect exposure to the 2019-20 bushfire events on the wellbeing and resilience of Australian first responders

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The cumulative impacts of exposure to traumatic events can negatively impact the wellbeing of first responders.

The unprecedented intensity and severity of the 2019/20 bushfires may adversely impact many first responders. This research will build on our ground-breaking study, Answering the Call: the first National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services, which was commissioned by Beyond Blue in 2018. Answering the Call surveyed over 21,000 first responders, including over 5,000 rural fire service and SES volunteers. This baseline measure of mental health and wellbeing of first responders which was collected prior to the fires will be combined with data collected in the current study to evaluate both the short- and long-term impacts of the 2019-20 bushfires. This unique longitudinal study design allows us to make maximum use of the data generously provided by our nation’s first responders in 2018, to gain valuable insight into the changes in mental health and wellbeing over time in response to large-scale natural disasters.

The study will seek to:

  1. Quantify the short and long-term impacts of direct and indirect exposure to the 2019-20 bushfire events on the wellbeing and resilience of Australian first responders
  2. Assess their need for support and use of support services
  3. Identify factors associated with resilience and effective coping, and
  4. Determine the best strategies to build resilience and protect mental wellbeing.

After the Fires will comprise two parts.

Part 1 is an online survey which will be conducted in 2020/2021 and again in 2022. It will include both paid and volunteer personnel in Australian Fire and Rescue, and State Emergency Services (SES) agencies. The survey will measure first responders’ engagement with the 2019-2020 bushfires, and their wellbeing, resilience, and need for and use of support services, as well as cultural and organisational factors that may affect their wellbeing.

For further information please contact Jennifer Bartlett: [email protected]

In Part 2 (data collection now complete) interviews and focus groups were conducted with 29 first responder volunteers across Australia who helped to fight the 2019/2020 bushfires and 15 community volunteers contributing to the effort, capturing their experiences and views from a mental health and wellbeing perspective. These insights relate to preventative measures and actions that agencies can take to support and promote mental health of all their members, especially younger volunteers and those who have more recently become volunteers. They also indicate the importance of increasing individual and organisational awareness and response to the potential mental health concerns arising from cumulative exposure to trauma, not only from major events but also from a career of routine exposure to potentially traumatic events.

For further information please contact Sharon Lawn: [email protected]

  • Team/Investigators

    Dr David Lawrence (The University of Western Australia), Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff (Military and Emergency Services and Health Australia (MESHA)), Professor Sharon Lawn (Flinders University), Wavne Rikkers (The University of Western Australia), Professor Stephen Houghton (The University of Western Australia)

  • Funding Body

    Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), The Commonwealth of Australia

  • Year Commenced

    June 2020

  • Expected Completion Date

    31st May 2023

  • Contribution

    Investigator (Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff)

  • MeSH Terms

    bushfire, disaster, prevalence, rates, mental health, emergency service, first responder, wellbeing, resilience, coping, help-seeking, support

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