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Doctoral Students at FIRST Center Share Fire Service Research, Goals, and More

Students at fire house

September 29, 2023

This piece is from the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST)'s REP Magazine | Issue 1

Madison Raposa, MS, and Ashley Geczik, MPH, are two students at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health being mentored by Dr. Jennifer Taylor, director of the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST), as they pursue their PhDs in Environmental and Occupational Health.

As a PhD candidate, Geczik is focusing on completing her research in preparation for her final defense in the spring of 2024. She is examining organizational safety climate—the shared perceptions of first responders regarding their department’s safety protocols—and its association with occupational diseases prevalent among firefighters.

This past year, as she was working to complete her doctoral coursework, she conducted research using beta-test data from the Fire service Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) survey to study the difference in safety climate based on department size. Her research revealed that career departments often have lower safety climate scores than their combination or volunteer counterparts. This work published in the Injury Epidemiology journal, has been featured at several FIRST Center conferences and presentations and has become a prime example of the work that FIRST Center students can accomplish.

As the daughter of a 9/11 World Trade Center disaster worker, Geczik sought out the opportunity to work with FIRST for her doctoral training because of their focus on first responder health and safety. She is passionate about giving back to a community of workers that does so much for the population they serve.

During her time with FIRST, Geczik has not only had the opportunity to conduct important data analysis—she has also engaged directly with fire and rescue departments, hearing from leadership about their concerns and working with them to develop the newest iteration of the FOCUS survey.

“I find joy in answering research questions that originate from our fire service partners,” she says. “Each day that I sit down for work, I know that I am doing this work for the US fire and rescue service.”

Raposa defended her doctoral research proposal over the summer of 2023 and will begin her research this coming fall. Her thesis will analyze the impacts of work environment on the mental health and well-being of first responders.

In 2022, Raposa led research examining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental well-being among firefighters and EMS responders as part of the COVID-19 RAPID Mental Health Assessment (RAPID). Her work, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, revealed that well-being decreased in a workforce hat was severely impacted by ever-changing job conditions and other work-related stressors caused by the pandemic. Raposa’s study is yet another example of the monumental research efforts that are spearheaded by students of FIRST.

As a budding public health professional, Raposa’s experience at Drexel University working with FIRST has increased her confidence in her skills and knowledge. “I have had the opportunity to engage with important stakeholders, experience what happens behind the scenes of conducting research, and learned how to use my skills to solve real-world problems in the fire and rescue service,” she says.

Both Geczik and Raposa have an optimistic outlook for their futures as public health practitioners once they finish their doctoral training.

“I’m a work in progress,” Geczik says, “but I am grateful to have the support of my FIRST Center colleagues as I continue to build these skills.”

Raposa echoed this sentiment, saying, “Being a part of the FIRST Center team has been game-changing for me thus far and I am excited to see where the next couple years takes me.”

“My work with the fire and rescue service will hopefully not end with my time here as a doctoral student,” Geczik adds.

Both Geczik and Raposa expect to complete their doctoral studies within the next few years and are eager to discover where their post-doctoral professional journeys will take them.

Geczik received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Loyola University and a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology with a Certificate in Chronic Disease Epidemiology from Columbia University.

Raposa received a Bachelor of Arts in Health Science from Stonehill College and a Master of Science in Population Health Research with a focus in Epidemiology from Boston University.

For questions about the FIRST Center, please contact Victoria Gallogly, MPH, FIRST Center Outreach & Communication Coordinator at