Chapter 9. Using Multimedia Artworks to Disseminate Psychological Research on Attacks on Firefighters

Vivienne Brunsden, Joe Robinson, Jeff Goatcher, and Rowena Hill

Viv Brunsden is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and also Head of the Emergency Services Research Unit, based at Nottingham Trent University. Although she has published articles in academic psychology journals—such as the Irish Journal of Psychology, Social Psychology Review, Personality & Individual Differences, International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction—she is a firm believer in taking psychology to other disciplines and so has also published in non-psychology academic journals; for example, International Fire Service Journal of Leadership & Management, Psychology Teaching Review, Education Today, Fire Safety Technology & Management, Journal of Further & Higher Education, British Medical Journal. Viv also publishes her research where it can more directly reach the people it most concerns; for example, in FIRE magazine (firefighters), Monitor (emergency planners and the security service), Higher Education Academy Newsletter (lecturers) etc.


Joe Robinson is a multi-media artist and commercial designer who has worked for over twenty years in the arts as well as also maintained a career in the field of community regeneration and consultation. He specializes in delivering innovative conceptual artworks that address issues of social importance, and in using visual arts, graphics and film to create high impact communication. Recently research-focused works includes a CARA Research Award investigating “the cultural popularity of dinosaurs” as well as a unique arts and social science partnership working with Nottingham Trent University's Emergency Services Research Unit and the Fire and Rescue Service. Along with his creative work he also helped to set up a £12 Million regeneration project in inner city Nottingham which was widely regarded as one of the best of its kind in Europe.


Jeff Goatcher is a social theorist at Nottingham Trent University. With a previous life in both graphic design/illustration and French polishing his approach to the study of society and culture moves along erratic and elliptical paths, often with a visual and “real world” focus. His recent research has focused on the cultural and political sociology of disaster, in particular, aspects of the visual representation of the Chernobyl disaster. He works with the Emergency Services Research Unit at NTU, bringing social theory and practical real-world activity into a shared orbit. Thus he has worked with the UK Fire & Rescue Service, in the area of political training, ethical leadership, and the sociology of attacks on firefighters.


Rowena Hill is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University and a member of the Emergency Services Research Unit. Her research interests include the psychology of critical occupations, specifically the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). Her current work with the FRS includes occupation-related consequences for relatives of firefighters, and leadership and management practices. She has conducted research for individual FRS, associated organizations and the NHS, evaluating the impact of changes in working practices examining leadership practices. Rowena is on the editorial advisory board for both fire related journals and teaching related journals. Rowena is a founding member of both the Nottingham Trauma Research Group, and of the International Society for the Study of Fire Leadership and Management.

The phenomenon of abusive and violent behaviour towards emergency workers is a problematic issue in the UK. This issue is starting to gain some media attention and the UK government has responded by passing the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act (2006), which makes it an offense to obstruct or hinder emergency services personnel in their work. Despite this, the general public remains largely unaware that attacks occur and can be incredulous once made aware. The intention behind our research was to explore the impact that attacks (physical and verbal) have on the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) personnel who experience them.


From the outset we were convinced that the topic we were looking at deserved a much more accessible way of letting people know about it, rather than peer-reviewed articles/conference presentations. These routes have a relatively low and somewhat restricted, even elitist, readership (see Loke andDerry, 2003).  We felt it was important that the findings reach the communities served by the firefighters.


Our idea was relatively simple; the artist would be part of the research team and access and use the data and analytic findings as a source of inspiration, to create artworks in a variety of media. These artworks would then be displayed in public spaces alongside more traditional research posters which contextualized the research project and detailed its methods and key findings.


During our planning discussions, it quickly became apparent that the social scientists and the artist initially had very different stances on the uses that could legitimately be made of "reality" and the data given by the participants. What we created together arose from a working compromise between our different disciplinary approaches, ethical stances, and views of appropriate knowledge sharing/popularizing strategies. Our art-science work formed the basis of an exhibition/video which lent itself to being taken to the wider community and shown in public spaces such as libraries, market places, community halls, etc. Thus the exhibiting of art-science works could become part of an action research strategy that also served to democratize the research process (Brunsden, Goatcher & Hill, 2009).