A New Breed of Peer Support for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

The 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference is almost here again, this year the Conference will be held over the 21-22 May at The Star Gold Coast.

Mrs Nesha Saunders, Fire Communications Officer/Peer Support Officer with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services joins us along with Bob, Pooch Suppawt Officer to discuss ‘A New Breed of Peer Support for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services’.

Mrs Nesha Saunders

The use of Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) has experienced a large increase in the mental health field, and research indicates that animals can be beneficial to promote psychological wellbeing. It is well recognised that the Emergency Services field is a high stress working environment and many Australian emergency services organisations provide resources to assist employees with work-related issues. However, the use of AAI within the emergency services has, to date, barely been explored, despite the potential numerous and low cost advantages it can provide.

The main purpose of this presentation is to describe the authors study examining the attitudes of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services employees regarding the use of a therapy dog. The qualitative study consisted of the author, a Fire Communications Officer and Peer Support Officer, and her therapy dog visiting numerous fire stations and the QFES headquarters. Employees then completed an online survey regarding their opinions about the dog. Results indicated the large majority of respondents were in favour of the dog visiting the workplace, attending operational debriefs, as well as one-on-one peer support sessions. Employees viewed the dog’s visits as indicative that their organisation was innovative, proactive and pioneering regarding employee’s psychological wellbeing. Research shows that this type of organisational perception can lead to positive mental health, employee engagement and positive organisational attributes.

The presentation will conclude with a summary of the author’s proposal to QFES to incorporate a therapy dog within the QFES Peer Support team, including the benefits, costs, potential challenges and solutions. QFES is now one of the first emergency services agencies in Australia to have a dedicated therapy dog within its peer support team.


Nesha Saunders is a Fire Communications Officer and Peer Support Officer with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. Her Honours degree in Psychology investigated the effects of contact with a therapy dog on trauma-induced anxiety, and her recent Masters research looked at the viability of incorporating a dedicated therapy dog into the QFES peer support program. Her latest research culminated in the incorporation of a dedicated therapy dog within the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Peer Support Team.

Bob, Pooch Suppawt Officer with Queensland Fire & Emergency Services



I am Bob, a 9 year old Groodle (golden retriever x standard poodle), who has been owned by Nesha since I was a puppy. I gained accreditation from Delta Therapy dogs, and Nesha and I would visit the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital to brighten up the kids days. I was also part of Nesha’s Honours research at Griffith University; participants would spend a short time with me after watching a video depicting traumatic scenes, after which their anxiety would be measured. I have also assisted with Griffith University research investigating dog phobias in children. I am currently the first (and only) Pooch Suppawt Officer with the QFES Fire and Emergency Services Support network (FESSN). In this capacity I can be requested by senior officers to attend debriefs after a critical incident; I can also be requested to accompany Nesha on one-on-one peer support sessions. I am also available to visit workplaces (fire stations and administrative venues) to improve employee psychological well-being and to raise awareness of FESSN.

For more information on the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference and to secure your spot, visit the conference website.