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About the Study

Our Purpose

Building mental health programming for firefighters, police and paramedics, and their families.

First responders (firefighters, police, and paramedics) often experience operational stressors including shift work and exposure to potentially traumatic events. These include threats to personal safety, witnessing accidents, homicides, and many other potentially traumatic events. Stressors like these increase a first responder’s risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health concerns.

Family members of first responders, especially spouses/partners, play a critically important role amidst the operational stress that enters the home via the first responder. In some cases, first responder family members can experience their own effects of operational stress in the home (e.g., relationship difficulties, family stress, increased caregiving responsibilities) that contribute to growing problems with their own social and emotional health. Support systems and programs for first responders, however, do not typically include family members, especially spouses and partners.

Sponsored by funding from the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Family First Responder team from the University of Calgary have designed a psychoeducation and support program called Re: Building Families specifically for spouses and partners of first responders. This program aims to support and strengthen the first responder partners’ own mental health and resilience, which may in turn, support and strengthen the mental health of the first responder and other family members.

Phases 1 & 2

Focus Groups and Online Survey

Through focus groups and an online survey, we explored the psychosocial and physiological functioning of first responders and their family members. We collected information about preferred supports to improve functioning, and preferences to inform the content, structure, and mode of delivery for the Family First Responder program. Families wanted to better understand the impact of stress on families, and learn coping strategies to manage stress.

Phase 3

Family First Responder Pilot Program

Alongside our focus groups and survey, we reviewed existing research and consulted with numerous helping professionals, police, fire, and paramedic groups, and family support groups. These results contributed to the development of the Family First Responder (FFR) psychoeducational and support program. The main goal of the FFR program is to provide psychoeducation to partners of first responders about how operational stress can impact the family, and to provide preventive strategies for these partners to enhance individual and family resilience.

We are recruiting spouses/partners of first responders to take part in a pilot study to test our program and provide us with feedback. Participant feedback will help us refine the FFR program and make it most helpful for partners of first responders across Canada. The pilot program will include five group sessions across five consecutive weeks (May to June 2022). Participants will be asked to complete questionnaires pre-program, after each session, post-program, and one month after the last session.

Research Questions

Does providing intervention and support to partners of first responders improve the mental health and wellbeing of the partners?

​Does providing intervention and support to partners of first responders improve overall family functioning?


Partners of first responders living in:

Alberta, Ontario & Saskatchewan

• Feedback from participants will inform curriculum for a psychoeducational and support program to enhance first responder family well-being.

• Findings will address the lack of research into the unique psychosocial needs of first responder family members that other first responder organizations and research can draw upon.

• The work of this study will support first responders and their families to respond to psychosocial needs that accompany the occupational stress associated with first responder roles.

• This research also has the potential to directly benefit the participants as the findings may generate insights into first responder advocacy and supports.