FSWO announces 2019 winner of Pink Helment of Courage Award, Carissa Campbell-Darmody

This year’s recipient of the Pink Helmet of Courage Award, Carissa Campbell-Darmody, is likely very unaware of the impact and influence she has had with women who have decided to choose the fire service as a career. Her passion and dedication to work in the fire service has never wavered, even when early in her career, she was involved in a life-threatening incident that potentially could have compromised her ability to work as a firefighter.

This life-threatening incident took place on February 12, 2007. Ottawa Fire Services responded to a working structure fire in an attached three-storey row house. Five Ottawa firefighters were injured, two critically. One of the critically injured was probationary firefighter named Carissa Campbell-Darmody. She responded on the first pump with her crew who entered the structure to search for a reported trapped civilian. All three crew members were forced to jump out of a third-floor window onto the pavement below when conditions rapidly changed from light smoke to intolerable heat. Injuries sustained during the fall put Carissa and her lieutenant out of duty for many months. Carissa sustained burns to her arm, a fracture to her foot, some broken teeth and a broken vertebra.

During her recovery time, Carissa was away in Maine and met a firefighter who was a member of Fire Service Women of New York State. She told Carissa about a women firefighter weekend in Montour Falls that offered hands-on training. After getting approval from her Chief, Carissa attended the training weekend to help her gain back confidence in her firefighting skills and help restore her commitment and passion that she first had when she initially was hired. The training venue also provided Carissa with some valuable networking opportunities allowing her to interact and engage in dialogue with several other women firefighters from across the state. Carissa learned and saw the benefits of women learning from each other, especially as women were (and still are) often isolated from each other in a profession still mostly staffed by men. She also became aware of a firefighting camp for young women called Phoenix Fire Camp, and encouraged other Ottawa firefighters to attend as instructors.

Carissa was able to return to her job as a firefighter with a stronger enthusiasm and commitment to help encourage other women to do the same. Through Carissa’s efforts, and the support of the Ottawa Fire Service, Carissa became part of the driving force to establish and develop a similar camp in Ottawa, now ten years strong and known as Camp FFIT (Female Firefighters in Training). Camp FFIT was one of the first recruitment initiatives of its kind to be held in Canada and helped lead to the creation of several other camps across the country.

The development of Camp FFIT in Ottawa also led to the establishment of Fire Service Women Ontario (FSWO) in the same year with Carissa being one of the three founding members. FSWO has grown from three members in its first year to over 350 members today with recognition across Ontario, Canada and Internationally.

Carissa’s involvement along with the four other firefighters who were injured in the 2007 fire also led to the development of new safety and firefighting protocols which is incorporated into a new program called “From Knowledge to Practice” which incorporates the science of fire behavior into modern firefighting tactics. Carissa who actually lived the experience is one of the instructors that will teach this course at this year’s FSWO Symposium.

FSWO wishes to recognize and thank Carissa for her courage, her passion, her commitment and dedication in helping to educate and promote women to excel and be safe in a more diversified fire service. FSWO congratulates and is pleased to give Carissa Campbell-Darmody from Ottawa Fire Service the Pink Helmet of Courage Award.

Nominator: Louise Hine-Schmidt, Ottawa Fire Services