|dc.description.abstract||In times of distress, uniformed first responders (UFRs) are the first formal line of care on scene and are responsible for providing care. Due to the obligations required of UFRs, they are considered to be at higher risk for experiencing traumatic stressors that may lead to concerns with their mental well-being (such as depression, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress, major depression, generalized anxiety, and sleep disorders) (Benedek et al., 2007; Bennett et al., 2004; Carey et al., 2011; Fullerton et al., 2004; Jacobson et al., 2008; Meyer et al., 2012). In the current climate of social activist movements (Black Lives Matter (BLM) and #Defundthepolice, in particular), the purpose of this research is to unpack and address the complex issue of care provision for first responders alongside these long overdue movements.
Drawing from critical theories of disability, this research project was methodologically inspired by critical participatory action research (PAR) and narrative inquiry (Clandinin, 2016). I partnered with a local organization (FF) – a community-based holistic wellness centre built for and by UFRs to offer wellness-based services in Southern Ontario. The PAR team (three individuals) recruited 11 participants (six police officers, four paramedics, and one corrections officer) to participate in a series of audio-recorded focus groups and semi-structured interviews (September to December, 2021). This work was guided by concepts of power, privilege, and culture to unpack what it means to identify as a UFR (i.e., the militant ideologies, power-laden relations and performances, and symbolic representations) By un-learning and re-learning how emergent care is provided in these situations, and how restorative justice and care can be re-centered, this work aims to resist systemic oppressions (i.e., capitalism, government-sanctioned power, and ableism), restore caring bodies, and reconcile power relations with the public.
This work employs the concept of redress ¬– the idea of resisting, restoring, repairing, or reconciling – (similar to Amighetti & Nuti, 2015; Henderson & Wakeham, 2013; Spiga, 2012) to address: (1) parts of institutional culture that UFRs that perpetuate toxic resilience, (2) the lack of mental health care relations and support that exist within UFR cultures, and (3) the need for leisure spaces of care, compassion, and healing. Through a reflexive, interpretive analysis (Smith et al.,1999), three main threads are described as making up the material and symbolic constructs of the UFR uniform (relations of power, cultural habitus and performing the expectations and symbolic representation) (Bourdieu, 1990; Butler, 1990; Foucault, 1977; Holt, 2008). Interrupted by necessary reflections on ableism, capitalism, white supremacy, and power in relation to UFRs, the findings of this research provide conceptual and practical implications on how government-sanctioned power is strategically used to maintain toxic relations within institutions that govern UFRs. I also offer reflections on how UFRs and the public experience parallel tensions and systemic harms as a result of government-sanctioned institutions of power. Leisure as a space for coping with stresses and trauma(s) (Heintzman, 2008; Iwasaki & Mannell, 2000; Kleiber et al., 2002; Weissinger & Iso-Ahola, 1984) is then used to better understand how UFRs take up leisure to navigate the nuances of stepping into laborious caring roles. This research makes a case for how leisure as care, healing, and restoration can be used to begin to mend the broken systemic relations for UFRs and the public. The findings of this research are represented through a narrative (documentary inspired) script as a means to share the stories and lived experiences told by UFRs. Future research can build on this work by interrupting government-sanctioned institutions of power that continue to privilege processes of ableism, capitalism, and colonialism and enact systemic harms and violences on UFRs and the public. All persons are in need of care in our badly fractured systems. I believe spaces of leisure can be used to cope and heal from systemic oppressions by offering opportunities for care, healing, and restoration to better meet the communal needs of all members of the public, including UFRs.||en