VIU student researching stress and resilience in firefighter relationships

Emmerson Pollard, a fourth-year VIU psychology honours student, has launched a new research project. || VIU photo
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Whether it’s work-related stress, a family issue, financial worries or an unexpected challenge, all romantic relationships have their ups and downs.

And while much has been written about relationship challenges in general, Emmerson Pollard, a student at Vancouver Island University (VIU), is tackling the less-discussed topic of resilience in the romantic relationships of first responders — specifically firefighters.

Pollard, a fourth-year psychology honours student, launched a new research project: A Love-Heat Relationship: An Analysis of Relationship Satisfaction, Stress and Resilience in Firefighters.

“Currently, there is next to no research that I could find that examines the close romantic relationships of firefighters,” she said. “In another project I was working on, lots of people talked about their spouses when it came to what helps them be resilient. In real life, after someone experiences a stressful event or is dealing with issues, it’s their partner they go to at the end of the day, so doing this research just seemed to make sense.”

And as she quickly found out, those in the profession were more than keen to share their experiences. Recruiting participants primarily through social media and contacting fire departments directly, Pollard says she was “absolutely floored” by the response.

In her first 24 hours of recruiting, she already had 170 participants and by the time she closed her survey in early February, she was just shy of 300.

“The only criteria was they had to be 19-plus, Canadian and actively serving at a fire department in Canada,” Pollard said.

With her data collection now finished, Pollard is starting her analysis. This process will continue into the first half of March, before she does all her write-ups and summaries, and prepares to present her work at two conferences in April.

Pollard said the goal of her work is to bring attention to the importance of interpersonal support and resilience in these particular relationships, not only because it hasn’t been done before, but also because divorce rates in firefighters are high.

As such, “this research is a proactive step towards figuring out what might be going on,” she said. “And because some participants are not in relationships, I’ll also get a picture of resilience in firefighters who don’t have that sort of intervention.”

While this project is ultimately for firefighters, Pollard said it also provides her with a foundation to work off as a researcher. And because so little research on this topic currently exists, “it’s something that we can pursue further on a bigger scale and work off of in the future.”

For now, though, Pollard said she feels lucky to be able to do this project, as it combines her favourite interests: interpersonal relationships, high-stress occupations and resilience.

“I really like approaching workplace health from a strength-based perspective,” she said. “And I hope I can create a useful tool for people to use in their relationships when dealing with stress.”

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