As the horrifying events at Grenfell Tower so starkly reminded us in June 2017, fire and rescue service personnel can come face to face with extreme trauma at any time. Theirs is a job that requires calm professionalism in the most testing of circumstances. Whether answering phone calls from members of public in desperate need, or fighting fires as devastating as that at Grenfell Tower, fire and rescue service employees can encounter moments of often intense emotion and stress on a daily basis.
Life in the fire service can take its toll
Witnessing or being involved in events such as that in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 2017 inevitably leave an indelible mark on those involved, scarring a lifetime of memories with the sights, sounds and smells of a singular, life-changing event. However, the mental health impact of a career in the fire and rescue service is not solely defined by employees’ exposure to major events like Grenfell Tower. Life in the fire service can have a cumulative, long term and sustained impact on the mental wellbeing of those whose role it is to serve and protect us. The damage this can cause to individuals’ health and wellbeing, as well as to family relationships, can be devastating.
Last year 55,000 working days were lost across the UK fire and rescue service due to poor mental health[i], while recently published figures have also shown that 27% of emergency services workers have considered suicide due to stress or poor mental health[ii].
The Fire Fighters Charity is uniquely placed to help. They have been supporting members of the fire and rescue services community for 75 years. From the provision of grants in support of bereaved families of firefighters killed during the Blitz, to the delivery of personalised programmes of physical, psychological and social welfare support to over 5,000 people a year today. They pride ourselves on their ability to deliver the right services and support for the fire service of the time.
An steady increase for mental health support
Over recent years we have seen a steady increase in demand for our mental health support services, reflecting the sector’s heightened awareness of the need for such support and individuals’ increased willingness to reach out for it. As a result they are looking to significantly expand their mental health support services to meet this need, investing in improving and enhancing our facilities and services to increase our capacity to deliver personalised support to individuals, couples and families.
Central to their plans is the development of their Grade II listed centre in Chudleigh, Devon. Harcombe House sits on 800 acres of beautiful Devonshire countryside and currently has capacity to support 24 people a week through the provision of a structured health and wellbeing programme that includes physical activity, psychological therapy, group activities, lectures and time for reflection. By repurposing the centre’s main building and grounds, we aim to increase our capacity to 56 people a week, providing dedicated areas to support one-to-one and group activities in a relaxed environment that takes full advantage of Harcombe House’s peaceful surroundings.
A nationwide charity
As a nationwide charity they are also keen to enhance the way they support their beneficiaries’ mental health across all three of our centres – in Devon, Cumbria and West Sussex – as well as in their own homes and local communities. As such, they aim to invest in the development of new technologies and opportunities to bring people together, reducing social isolation amongst the retired fire community and rolling out UK-wide, community-based health and wellbeing programmes to promote the physical and psychological benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle. Delivering specialist advice and information, together with the simple means by which it can be accessed, they want to help those with poor mental health – as well as those who care for them – to recognise their need and to take positive action to address it.
Working with the UK’s fire and rescue service
Working closely with the UK’s fire and rescue services is also vital to their objectives in regards to combating poor mental health amongst the workforce. By further developing their excellent relationships with Services they want to increase awareness amongst employees of the signs and symptoms of poor mental health so that they can be aware of these in themselves and also in their colleagues and peers. Through education and awareness they believe we can help to reduce stigma around mental health and ensure that all those affected – whether just starting out in their career or nearing retirement – know where to turn when they need support and have easy access to the advice and information they need.
Because an individual’s poor mental health can have serious implications in regards to relationships and family life, they are also keen to explore how they can further support families. Spending time together to understand, to reflect and to learn how to cope will allow families to support the husband, wife, father or mother better in their own home, ensuring that all have the tools and techniques they need to support each other when they need to. They will offer this service to families at our Harcombe House centre and are exploring ways in which they can also provide support to families in their own homes and local communities.
As MIH’s Charity of The Year will help them to ensure this vital work can be funded into the future. The Fire Fighters Charity relies almost entirely on the generosity of its donors, supporters and fundraisers to raise its annual £8.5m operating costs. However, achieving their ambitions in regards to enhancing their mental health support services over the coming few years will require significant further investment. Our support will therefore directly allow them to do this, funding the provision of a mental health support service that will change the lives of thousands of fire and rescue service personnel currently struggling with poor mental health.
I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen.
Website link: https://www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/case_study/roger
Roger Moore, retired firefighter, contemplated suicide following his retirement from the fire service. In this video case study he recalls how The Fire Fighters Charity supported him and brought him back from the brink. After filming this video Roger went on to win the Beneficiary of Courage award at The Fire Fighters Charity’s Spirit of Fire Awards. He is now an advocate for the Charity and is happy to be interviewed.
As well as Roger, they have a number of other case studies with people and families we have supported, like Jim…
Website link: https://www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/case_study/jim-walker-the-day-that-changed-my-life
[i] National Fire and Rescue Occupational Health Performance Report, April 2017 – March 2018